Review: Tevye the Milkman, by Sholem Aleichem
Tevye the Milkman made me angry.
Like everyone else who saw the play (I saw it with three different Tevyes) or the movie, I missed so much. And I didn’t know how much until I listened to this audiobook.
We learn from the film and the musical that Tevye is a good man, even as he is bewildered by the changes of the times he lived in. Neither shows us his “dark side:” the arrogance, the self-pity, the arrant meanness of how he treats his wife and children because they “are only women.” In fact, Tevye has contempt for pretty much everyone he interacts with — including those he supposedly calls friends.
Neither musical nor film has him forgiving Chava, for example, even though she has — we find in the final Tevye story — left her husband to go into exile with the rest of her family. Instead, in the story — we see Tevye rant on and on about the “trick he played on him.” (She did not, btw, play a trick on him – she and Fyedka tried to talk to him and, only when that failed, did she ask the priest to intervene). I was actually yelling at the audiobook during his last rant about why God is always giving him problems — as if he’s the only person who undergoes the things he has.
His constant bragging about how he was Tevye and wasn’t weak or impatient like a woman really got under my skin, too. He does nothing but put down the women in his life and — in fact — only asks Golde for advice once, then tears her down for not preventing what he sees as Chava’s defection.
I am angry at this series of stories, and I do not see the anger abating. It feels like I have been lied to for decades about the essential character of Tevye. I do not fault Mr. Aleichem for this, btw, but the entertainment industry which seems to have decided that the public could not handle the stories as written.
Sorry folks, but thanks to the entertainment industry, I really feel cheated on this one, and I am very sorry it took me this long to find it out. If, however, you are ready for a very different version of Tevye than has been popularized, this is definitely a book for you.