As I mentioned on Friday, Wex was interviewed by Bernie Bellan, editor of The Jewish Post and News, during his recent visit to the Winnipeg International Writers Festival. Here are some excerpts from that interview:
Is writing novels of this type something that you’re going to be continuing to do or is this a one-shot affair?
“I hope not. I started out writing fiction. My first book – which nobody read – was published as a novel and, really, that’s what I prefer to do – especially, I think, as far as popular Yiddish goes. I think I’ve pushed that as far as you can go without actually having to begin writing in Yiddish itself.”
How have people reacted to your depictions of sex (which is often pretty raw)?
“You’re the first person that’s mentioned it. The only review that even talked about it said that the book is about ‘potty-mouthed meshuganers’. I don’t think they’re particularly ‘potty-mouthed’. I turn on the TV on a near-daily basis and see things like ‘The Family Guy’ on at 4:30 in the afternoon, and I don’t think this is significantly more ‘potty-mouthed’ than that. I think what you have is Jewish characters speaking vernacular English despite the fact they’re reasonably well-educated. I think that’s not uncommon. I taught university for many years. Certainly most of my colleagues spoke no differently than the way most people speak in this book.”
Are you a lexicographer by training?
“No, I was a medievalist, specializing in Old English, Old Norse.”
Is there much of a relationship between Yiddish and Old Norse?
“More than you would think. First of all, they’re Old Germanic languages. They both hit their stride as individual languages around the same time. If you look at Yiddish humour that everyone talks about, and you look at Old Germanic humour – it’s very similar. It’s very ironic – very deadpan. I think this may explain why Yiddish, rather than any of the other scores of Jewish languages that may have evolved over the millennia became the major vehicle of humour.”
Does it give you an idea, perhaps, to create a novel about Jewish Vikings?
“I wrote a play about it. It did quite badly. It was about the Yiddish revenge on Wagner.”