Friday, January 23, 2009

"Oh, Shabbat!" Reads Well on Any Day of the Week

Gefilte fish. I can’t stop thinking about gefilte fish after reading Dina Kalinovskaia’s (Kalinovskaya) novella О суббота! (Oh, Shabbat!).

Oh, Shabbat! is a lovely, little-known book about a visit to Odessa from a prodigal, Grisha, who immigrated to the United States decades ago, leaving behind his family, falling out of touch, and causing some hard feelings. Kalinovskaia had a true ability to capture, in very few pages, the humor and sadness of life when she wrote about meetings and partings, both temporary and permanent.

My favorite scene in Oh, Shabbat! doesn’t sound like much... It takes place at a dinner in Grisha’s honor, a dinner for which a woman named Revekka has made gefilte fish. Revekka’s husband, Saul, is seated next to their grandson’s girlfriend. She doesn’t eat the gefilte fish or the crooked chicken neck she receives later, and Saul realizes the young woman is pregnant. First he tells her he loves bread and, yes, pickles, then he invites her to the kitchen, where he fries potatoes for her.

I could eat fried potatoes every night of the week, so it’s tempting to think that scene got me because of the food, but Saul’s sensitivity is far tastier. I love Kalinovskaia’s many accounts of loving, familial bickering: this is a “you’ll laugh, you’ll cry” kind of book that shows great compassion for people and their shortcomings. This dense little book reads easily, so I already want to reread it, to absorb more of the humor, the Odessan setting and language, and the people themselves.

I am sorry to report that Oh, Shabbat! has not been translated into English. It was originally published in the Soviet journal Дружба народов (Friendship of Peoples) in 1980 and was not reprinted until 2007, in the “Prose of Jewish Life” series from a Moscow publisher, Текст (Text). 

Carp photo courtesy of onemhz, via stock.xchng

Gefilte fish recipes welcome. 


  1. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention... it sounds like a fun read. I wonder if I can find it in Tel Aviv - we have a lot of Russian bookstores but mostly they sell only translated "Bestsellery". I'll look out for it...

    Gefilte fish is the speciality of my husband's grandmother... it's not easy to make but it's worth it.
    This recipe looks very good to me:

  2. You're welcome, cat! It's a good little book that's fun and sad all at once. I enjoyed it a lot.

    Here is the Web page for the series of books... maybe it will help you or the bookstore find the book:
    Издательство "Текст"

    Thank you for posting the link with the recipes. I'll have to try making gefilte fish... the Moroccan and curried fish sound good, too!