Modern Ladino Culture

Modern Ladino Culture

Press, Belles Lettres, and Theater in the Late Ottoman Empire
Olga Borovaya
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 12/05/2011
Format: Hardback 8 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-35672-7
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Finalist, 2012 National Jewish Book Awards, Sephardic Culture

Olga Borovaya explores the emergence and expansion of print culture in Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), the mother tongue of the Sephardic Jews of the Ottoman Empire, in the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. She provides the first comprehensive study of the three major forms of Ladino literary production—the press, belles lettres, and theater—as a single cultural phenomenon. The product of meticulous research and innovative methodology, Modern Ladino Culture offers a new perspective on the history of the Ladino press, a novel approach to the study of belles lettres in Ladino and their relationship to their European sources, and a fine-grained critique of Sephardic plays as venues for moral education and politicization.

Author Bio

Olga Borovaya is a visiting scholar at Stanford University. She is author of Modernization of a Culture (in Russian).


“This comprehensive study explores the emergence and expansion of print culture in Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), the mother tongue of the Sephardic Jews of the Ottoman Empire, in the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. ”

“This groundbreaking, eye-opening study demonstrates that literary and cultural analytical tools are key to answering historical questions about Ladino texts. . . . Borovaya's study underscores the richness of Ladino literature as a source for the history of Ottoman Sephardim and their diasporic offshoots.”
 — Aviva Ben-Ur, University of Massachusetts

“A superb literary-historical study of Ladino literature . . . that goes very far in fleshing out, correcting, and innovatively interpreting the history and substance of Ladino literary production.”
 — Sarah Abrevaya Stein, author of Making Jews Modern (IUP, 2003)

“Olga Borovaya's brilliant path-breaking book transforms our understanding of modern secular Ladino cultural production at its apogee. . . .This extraordinary work, the result of prodigious research and analysis, will become the ultimate book of reference for future scholarship on the subject.”
 — Aron Rodrigue, Stanford University

“Borovaya's meticulously-researched book examines the relationship between linguistic and historical developments as they come into view through these Ladino texts.1.2 2013”
 — Journal of Jewish Languages

“Olga Borovaya’s brilliant book—the first comprehensive study of modern Ladino print culture—transforms our understanding of the Ottoman Sephardi world in the era of westernisation that preceded its demise. . . [T]his terrific book is a work of prodigious scholarship and arresting insight. It should be required reading not just for modern Jewish historians, but for all those interested in literacy, secularisation and the impact of the West in the Ottoman world. Dec. 2015”
 — English Historical Review

“With detailed notes and an index Borovaya presents a comprehensive but highly readable analysis which provides a welcome companion to the study of a rather rare collection of materials. ”
 — Jewish Book Council

“Olga Borovaya has written a highly intelligent and highly intelligible book on Ladino literary production in the modernizing, secularizing final century and a half of the Ottoman empire. Borovaya brings clarity and freshness to an area of study that has long remained the hotly debated and often fiercely guarded domain of a small clutch of scholars.”
 — Slavic Review

“This is a groundbreaking and comprehensive study of the modernization of the culture of a minority group. ... On the basis of exhaustive research, Borovaya combines enlightening analysis with detailed information in a study that provides an innovative approach to the study of Ladino culture and Sephardi history. In addition to scholars of Sephardi studies, this work is of tremendous importance for those interested in cultural developments among minority groups, and the interconnections among various cultural aspects.”
 — H-Judaic

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Table of Contents

Note on Translation, Transcription, Proper Names, and Dates

Part 1. The Press
The Emergence of modern Culture Production in Ladino: The Sephardi Press
The Press in Salonica: a Case Study

Part 2. Belles Lettres
The Serialized Novel as Rewriting
Ladino Fiction: Case Studies

Part 3. Theater
Sephardi Theater: Project and Practice
Ladino Drama: Case Studies


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