At the Depot is story written by Soviet Yiddish writer David Bergelson who is notable for writing in an impressionistic psychological style that penetrates the consciousness of his protagonists, exposing their yearnings, doubts, and frustrations to the prurient eyes of the reader. The mind so exposed in this story belongs to Benish, a young man resides and works in Jewish settlement of grain dealers near a train depot in the Ukraine.

While the reader has no choice but to open himself up to Bernish's thoughts that repeatedly circle around various frustrations, disappointments, and futile longings, the characters within the story have no desire to hear him complain about his marriage, his financial difficulties, and the cruelty of his associates in grain dealing. Nevertheless, Bernish is determined to find someone who's willing to listen. Ever on the prowl for open ears, Bernish stands and gazes into a window of a house, looking at beautiful young woman staring outwards. He wants to come in and unburden his thoughts to her under the pretext of wanting to talk business with her husband. He, himself is married but lives apart from his wife, not even bothering to see her at all. Just like everyone else, she is not open to hearing him recount his trials and tribulations. Finding her repellingly green faced and stub nosed, Bernish believes her to be cold-hearted and indifferent to him. He recalls being once shocked by her lack of emotion regarding a sensitive matter. Finding the shreds of a torn picture of Benish's first wife who suddenly died from an illness, his current wife, Frumke, asks her husband to tell her who is potrayed in the photo. After he tells her that it is his first wife whose image is captured in the photo, he becomes shocked by her indifference to his answer. Shouldn't she inquire about why he ripped up the picture, if he still misses the deceased, or even burst out in anger at his insistence on preserving memory of his old wife while neglecting her, the new spouse? Bernish cynically believes that her lack of emotional insight into him comes from her disinterest in him alltogether. He is convinced that she does not love him because during the time that he has lived apart from her, renting a separate room in a farmhouse near the train depot to conduct business, she would not visit him or even send a letter. Thus, dissatisfied with his wife, Bernish is stoked by his luck in meeting the other young woman. Unlike his wife, he relishes talking to her because she seems to connect and sympathize with his plight of being stuck in in the company of hateful grain dealers.

For Bernish, these men are even more hateful than his wife, because they are so derisive and mocking of anyone who has gotten in a bad financial strait. Bernish knows that he is bound to provoke their scorn sooner or later, since he cannot turn a profit from any of his trades and the money inherited from his father and from the marriage dowry is slowly dwindling. He imagines that he will soon become as much maligned as the other unlucky business failure Pinye Lisak, who's become the butt of everybody's jokes. It is especially two men, Avromchik and Levi Pivniak, who are fond of laughing at the poor Pinye. They mischievously offer to help Lisak get back in the trading business by selling off his raccoon coat. The suggestion of selling of one's coat can only be interpreted as a cruel joke because one would freeze to death without it in the bitter cold of the Ukrainian winter. Humor, even if injurious, can be sometimes excused because the joker may intend to be funny rather than simply insulting. But Pivniak does actually mean to be insulting and offensive, desiring to mock Lisak's misfortune for its own sake rather than for the value of humor. That's evident because he disdainfully draws attention to Piney's financial failure even when no humor is involved. Thus, Pivniak offends Lisak with a humorless insult which nevertheless elicits others to laugh at Lisak's misfortune. Watching Lisak desperately trying to collect some money by propositioning sales of his belongings to visiting grain purchasers, Pivniak brings the nearby assembled crowd of prosperous grain dealers to laughter by ponting towards Lisak and calling him a pauper. " 'He looks like a pauper already.' ".. swore Levi Pivniak, with (his) noticeable stoop and bulging, mischievous eyes.. The grain dealers, salesmen, and brokers who clustered around him, bared their their tobacco-stained teeth in a hearty laugh that resounded solidly across the empty depot."

Benish certainly guessed correctly that he would likewise become a subject of cruel contemptous joking when poverty would come to affect him. The young man suffered a financial loss after buying a large stock of sunflower but being unable to interest the daily arriving wholesale purchasers to buy it from him. He also incurred another loss due to a forfeited loan. One of the men he lent 500 rubles bankrupted and would likely never repay the sum. These unsuccessful transactions, judging from what previously occured to Lisak, predictably made Benish the subject of gossip and contempt by fellow grain dealers. Some of them said that Benish should be avoided him because his propensity for losing money was contagious and threatened to pass on to them via contact, like an airborn disease such as the flu. Ever the joker, Pevniak humorously hinted to the others that Benish caused his own ruin by implying that statement through a funny metaphor: "Everyone knows that Benish slapped his own face." Benish is outraged by the comment and, taking the joke's words into account, vengefully slaps Pevniak on the face. Later he ruminates over the humiliation of being mocked by sleeplessly turning and tossing at night. Wishing to at least temporarily get away from being the butt of jokes, Benish dreams of leaving the brood of taunting grain sellers for a day to visit his hometown so that he can bask in the memories of his childhood and of the happy times from his first marriage. Ironically, when he does get to leave his ordinary surroundings, it happens because he has to spend two weeks in jail for slapping Pevniak in the face.

This review is not meant to be exhaustive in any sense. For those interested in reading the story, you can find it in Ruth Wisse's anthology, The Shtetl and Other Novellas. It may also be worthwhile to read The Nation's recent article about David Bergelson at

Note: David Bergelson's name is often alternately spelled as Dovid Bergelson