No golems or dybbuks terrorize the Jews of Vilna in this posthumously published memoir by the Yiddish writer Chaim Grade; no Singer-like demons spook his townspeople in punishment for the impiousness or indigence of their souls. Grade’s book emphasizes instead, in a kind of literature which seems to extend directly from Talmudic ideals, the daily concerns of his peddlers and shopkeepers—their families, rituals, livelihoods, and hopes for a better life. In My Mother’s Sabbath Days, as in the author’s collection of novellas, Rabbis and Wives (published in 1982), fear and faith present themselves not through goblins but in everyday circumstances, and poverty is not spiritual but material and mean.

Grade was born in Vilna in 1910, the only surviving child of his father’s second marriage. Two younger sisters and his father, a rabbinical scholar, died while he...


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