While the curious English-language reader can find some of the great works of Yiddish literature available in translation, the vast corpus of popular fiction remains untranslated. Jessica Kirzane has changed this with her recent rendering into English of Miriam Karpilove’s Diary of a Lonely Girl: The Battle against Free Love—first published serially from 1916 to 1918. In her review, Dara Horn writes
Karpilove was the rare woman who was commercially successful enough to make a living as a Yiddish writer, publishing hundreds of stories, novels, and plays. Like network TV fare, Karpilove’s works expressed a zeitgeist while very gently nudging its boundaries, reassuring her audience that their sympathies are in the right place.
In the case of Diary of a Lonely Girl, the zeitgeist was the environment of “free love” (read: extramarital sex) among New York’s “free-thinking” (read: secular and politically radical) young Jewish men, and the contradiction between their self-serving desires and a social setting where virginity was still paramount to young women’s futures. . . . Diary of a Lonely Girl is an intimate look at this challenging reality. It consists of its unnamed single-girl heroine’s romantic encounters with several men, each of whom attempts to convince her to get into bed with him as she resorts to increasingly desperate hijinks to Just Say No.
But as I read Karpilove’s decidedly mass-market novel, I found myself touched by how profoundly and unselfconsciously Jewish this book is, as expressed in the many, many scenes and details.
Sitting alone in her room on a Saturday evening, Karpilove’s “secular” heroine recalls Sabbaths in the old country, and reflects for an entire chapter on how she has “felt the loneliness of Shabbos nights [Saturday evening, the Sabbath’s departure] since childhood. It has grown into a chronic sadness, a kind of religious melancholy,” because “my soul would cry out: it did not want to separate from that other soul, the extra soul that only came on Shabbos!”