A town of Jewish immigrants, uprooted from czarist Russia to the Argentinian Pampas. Sounds crazy, no?
The Spanish-language story collection Jewish Gauchos of the Pampas, written in 1910, describes a group of fictitious Jews who, fleeing real-life pogroms, wind up in Argentina.
The slim (126-page) book contains 26 stories, each about a different character. Some portray the village’s colorful freaks, like Fawel Duglach, an elderly storyteller who dresses in traditional gaucho clothes and tells ancient Jewish stories. Some are more traditional and romantic, such as “Song of Songs”–which reads with all the overblown passion of a Latin American telenovela.
Jewish Gauchos was inspired by the first Jewish Argentine settlers, who arrived in October, 1888. The book–written by Alberto Gerchunoff, a mentor of literary heavyweight Jorge Luis Borges–doesn’t represent a cultural clash as much as a cultural melding. The joyous, sometimes-naive townsfolk eagerly embrace their new identity, singing psalms to the Argentine president, even though nobody knows his name or what, exactly, a president does. Encyclopedia Judaicacalled Jewish Gauchos ”the first great work of Latin-American Jewish literature.” A new translation from University of New Mexico Press is the first volume in their Jewish Latin America Series.