Wonder of Wonders, Miracle of Miracles! Alisa Solomon will be at the Book Stall in Winnetka on Friday, Nov 22 at 7 p.m. to sign copies of her new book Wonder of Wonders: The Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof. Solomon’s visit is scheduled exactly one month after the book’s official release date (October 22, 2013). This will be one of her first stops outside Metro NYC as she begins a nationwide series of speaking engagements culminating in the 50th anniversary of the first Broadway performance of Fiddler on the Roof on September 22, 2014.
True to its title, Wonder of Wonders is a comprehensive cultural history of Fiddler. Making expert use of every one of her 448 pages (including extensive footnotes), Solomon provides a lively account of the who, what, when, and where of Fiddler from the birth of Sholem Rabinowitz in Russia in March 1859 (where Rabinowitz quickly achieved fame as the author now known to the word by his pen name “Sholem Aleichem”) to a Glenn Beck rally in Jerusalem in August 2011 (where Beck made his exit from the stage of his “Restoring Courage” rally to the music of “Sabbath Prayer”).
But if Solomon’s scholarship is exhaustive, her writing style is not. Her prose is blessedly free of pedantic jargon as she leaps the hurdles of her narrative arc. Yes, Solomon is “an academic” (she is the director of the Arts & Culture concentration in the MA program at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism), but she has also written reviews and features for The New York Times, The Nation, The Forward, and The Village Voice (among other publications), so she knows how to win over audiences at every level of expertise.
Regular readers know that I am a Fiddler junkie (back in Brooklyn now after the fifth in a series of annual lectures for the Chicago YIVO Society’s Summer Festival of Yiddish Culture), but even I learned some great new tidbits from Solomon. For example, following Deep Throat’s advice to “Follow the Money,” Solomon provides a fascinating account of ownership stakes and how the profits were to be distributed. When you consider that most initial backers expected Fiddler to be a flop, this peek inside the business side of Broadway will make Mel Brooks’ parody in The Producers even funnier—and more insightful—than we ever knew.
You couldn’t ask for a better guide to Fiddler than Alisa Solomon. As Samuel G. Freedman (author of Jew vs. Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry) says in his jacket blurb: “Fiddler on the Roof, in her hands, becomes a Rosetta Stone for understanding the Jewish journey.”
For additional information, visit Solomon’s website (http://AlisaSolomon.com) which includes a complete schedule of events, and an informal blog called Fiddler’s Fortunes which invites participation (“Send in your Fiddler sightings!”).
FINAL NOTE: Some readers, seeing the name “Alisa Solomon,” will wonder if this is the same Alisa Solomon who co-edited the collection Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict with Tony Kushner in 2003. The answer is yes, but don’t let that stop you. There is no politics in Wonder of Wonders; it is purely celebratory.
Jan Lisa Huttner (Tzivi) served as the JUF’s primary Arts & Culture critic for 7 years, and she continues to contribute regular monthly Blog posts and occasional print features from her new home in Brooklyn. Visit Jan’s personal Blog, www.SecondCityTzivi.com, for a complete online archive of all JUF News columns and posts plus additional interviews and reviews.
Printed in the Nov ’13 issue of the JUF News & posted 11/20/13 in JUF Online.