After Anatevka: A Novel Inspired by “Fiddler on the Roof”
By Alexandra Silber
Pegasus Books, 336 pages, $25.95
“Fiddler on the Roof” ends with the dairyman Tevye and most of his family evicted from their shtetl of Anatevka and heading to new lives in America. In their musical adaptation of Sholem Aleichem’s Yiddish-language tales, Joseph Stein, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock provided a backstory for the great migration of Eastern European Jews to the United States around the turn of the 20th century. Even as its depiction of Cossack-led pogroms gestures at the Holocaust to come, “Fiddler” is fundamentally an account of adaptation and survival, relevant not just to Jews, but also to generations of American immigrants.
In her floridly romantic historical fiction, “After Anatevka,” Alexandra Silber veers off in another direction entirely. Rather than follow Tevye and his clan to the United States, as one might have expected, Silber — an actress by trade — imagines what might have befallen Tevye’s second daughter, Hodel, and her revolutionary husband, Perchik, in the wilds of Siberia.
Silber has said that her portrayals of both Hodel, in a West End revival of “Fiddler,” and Hodel’s elder sister, Tzeitel, in the subsequent Broadway production, influenced her writing of the book. “After Anatevka” boasts a foreword by “Fiddler” lyricist Harnick, who calls it “a powerful and gripping tale of love, loyalty, bravery and endurance,” and there are laudatory blurbs by theatrical colleagues, such as the playwright Terrence McNally, the actor Jason Alexander and Silber’s “Fiddler” co-star Danny Burstein. This past spring, in New York, its impending publication inspired a concert of original songs by Project Broadway at Symphony Space.
For all that, the novel simply isn’t very good. It’s at once an overwrought, cliché-ridden romance (“It was this surge of feeling that moved him to kiss her face with a covetous thirst, as…