No Justice in Heaven
The Book of Paradise Itzik Manger
Translation Leonard Wolf
Dos Bukh fun Gan-Eden is a satirical fantasy set in Paradise – a humorous vision of the afterlife in which familiar human weaknesses and pains persist. In the book Yiddish culture with its folklore, faith, parochialism, and beauty is celebrated, satirized, and memorialized. The book was published in Warsaw in August 1939, but nearly the entire edition was destroyed by the invading German army. Only a handful of review copies mailed to America survived.
Called the Shelley of Yiddish, Manger was characterized as drunk with talent.
It tells the story of Shmuel-Aba, a twelve-year-old angel who lives in heaven but is taken to live on earth. Usually, those about to be born receive a punch on the nose just before leaving Paradise, which causes them to lose their memory. But Shmuel Aba dodges the punch and can recall every detail of his previous life. He is born into a Jewish family in a Jewish village, with an adoring mother and a pious father. They are part of that timeless world that once spread across Eastern Europe. Shmuel-Aba’s stories about Paradise form the core of the novel. Paradise is depicted as reflected in the experiences of a couple of mischievous twelve-year-old boys. People in Paradise, though immortal and winged, lead lives that are as filled with temptation and dismay as those we lead on earth. Though angels, they live in a society with rigid class distinctions. Like ours, their love relationships are often deceitful and cruel. Heaven is no different from earth. Manger also makes a statement against religious prejudice and division. Apart from the Jewish paradise, the novel also mentions a Muslim paradise and a Christian paradise. The borders are strictly guarded. Manger describes it all with biting irony. In the multi-ethnic Czernowitz of Manger’s day, the different national groups lived alongside one another but did not fully interact. Because all this is seen through the gaze of a couple of wide-eyed twelve-year-olds, Manger’s satire is particularly sharp.