Book Review: A Tale of Two Shtetls by Elissa Allerhand

By: Elissa Allerhand

Meir is a child protege, growing up in a Ukrainian shtetl who will one day succeed his uncle as the Rebbe. A great scholar from a young age, he is also gifted with empathy and a natural leadership. As evidence when he convinces his ailing father to take in an elegantly dressed woman running from her past, seeking refuge from the Russian Royal Court. Meir faces challenges as he prepares for his future role, including jealousy from his cousin, Gershon, who is also a nephew to the great Rebbe.

This work of historical fiction paints an interesting picture of shtetl life and the culture of the Hasidic movement. Meir is faced with a future that has already been decided for him and involves a difficult path with great expectations. I found myself rooting for Meir’s cousin, Gershon, to see past his jealousy and find his own path. The love story between Meir and Rivka is really lovely.

A Tale of Two Shtetls gives a vivid and realistic picture of life of Jews living in Ukraine and Russia in the 18th Century. One gets an appreciation for the dangers of living in a highly antisemitic environment with frequent pogroms. The story is quickly paced and nicely written. The paperback edition has a few editing issues where paragraphs are repeated in a few places, which detracted from the story a little. But overall, this was an enjoyable read.

[Updated: 10/30/2020] The author has since corrected the editing issues noted in the original review. As a result, I’ve updated my rating.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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