Kaddish: Before the Holocaust and After
Prolific writer Jane Yolen’s latest book is a departure from the children’s literature for which she is most known. Unlike her other books of poetry, Kaddish: Before and After the Holocaust has a focus and tension that may put off some readers.
There is a great deal of detail in the poems, and it is clear that this is work of witness: poetry meant to acknowledge and remember and, when called for, to celebrate and vilify. But there is a slight unevenness in the book’s section that keeps it from feeling fully cohesive. Perhaps this is intentional; the three sections are Before (Woman’s Midrashim), The Shoah’s Many Voices, and Mitzvah’s and Miracles, the last of which is by far the shortest. It is disappointing that the final section is so short in that it contains the strongest poem in the book, “The Trochenbrod Miracle”, which feels like it could be the first poem in a slightly different collection.
The poems are strong if the book, as a whole, is a bit unbalanced, but it is—unsurprisingly—deeply sad in many places, so readers who aren’t ready for the emotional toll of the text should steer clear.
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