Jacob Isaac Segal

A nonfiction biography by Pierre Anctil, translated by Vivian Felsen.

Pierre Anctil, tranlsated by Vivian Felsen

Born in the Ukraine in 1896, and settling in Montreal in 1910, Segal became one of the first Yiddish writers in Canada. His poetry, infused with lyricism and mysticism, along with the numerous essays and articles he penned, embodied both a rich literary tradition and the modernism of his day.

Pierre Anctil has written so much more than a biography. For the first time, Segal's poetic production is referenced, translated and rigorously analyzed, and includes over 100 pages of appendices, shedding light on the artistic, spiritual, cultural and historical importance of his oeuvre. By introducing the reader to the poet's work through previously unpublished translations, Anctil demonstrates that in many respects it reflects the history of the Jewish immigrants who arrived in North America from Russia, the Ukraine and Poland at the beginning of the 20th century, as well as the tragic experiences of Jewish intellectual refugees of the interwar period.

The original French version was awarded the prestigious 2014 Canada Prize in the Humanities by the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. (From University of Ottawa Press)

Jacob Isaac Segal is on the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award shortlist for translation.

From the book

Looking back through the passage of time at my academic journey, I can state today that my interest in Yiddish culture in Montreal dates back more than thirty years to my first encounter with David Rome, archivist at the Canadian Jewish Congress. As an immigrant himself, Rome was the repository of a vast body of knowledge about the great wave of Eastern European Jewish immigration and the intense Yiddish literary activity it generated in Canada — knowledge which, at the end of his life, he wished to transmit to future generations. When Rome and I began to discuss this subject at the beginning of the 1980s, most of the important figures of the Montreal Yiddish world had already disappeared, and their work had fallen into obsolescence and oblivion. Although over the years a new school of professional historians had made its appearance in the Jewish community of Canada, it was primarily preoccupied by the anti-Semitism of Canada's elite. This school turned its back on the early period when Yiddish was the everyday language of Eastern European Jews. It took me some time to understand everything that Rome had so generously shared with me about Jewish Montreal, including the fact that he must have been astonished to be welcoming a gentile into a field of research so little valued in his own community.

From Jacob Isaac Segal by Pierre Anctil, translated by Vivian Felsen ©2017. Published by University of Ottawa Press.

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