''ikh gleyb nit az di gantze velt iz kheyshekh''
''I do not believe that all the world is darkness''
In the swirl of Philadelphia at the end of Prohibition, Leyb meets Charles. They are at a former speakeasy called Cricket''s, a bar that welcomes, as Charles says in his secondhand Yiddish, feygeles. Leyb is startled; fourteen years in amerike has taught him that his native tongue is not known beyond his people. And yet here is suave Charles, fingers stained with ink, an easy manner with the barkeep, a Black man from the Seventh Ward, speaking to him in Jewish; Charles, who calls him ''Lion'', and with whom he will fall in love.
But Leyb is haunted by memories of life before, on another continent and the village of his birth where, one day, everyone except the ten non-Jews, a young poet named Gittl and he himself, was taken to the forest and killed.
Leyb''s two lifetimes come together when Gittl arrives in Philadelphia, thanks to a poem she wrote and the intervention of a shadowy character known only as the Baroness. And surrounding Gittl are malokhim, the talkative spirits of her siblings.
Flowing and churning with a glorious surge of language, Before All the World lays bare the impossibility of escaping trauma, the necessity of believing in a better way ahead, and the power that comes from our responsibility to the future. It asks, in the voices of its angels, the most essential question: What do you intend to do before all the world?
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