About the Book
Joha has Janus’s double face: On the one hand, he is innocent and stupid; on the other, a trickster. He is a cheater and is cheated. He sets traps for others and falls into traps himself; he is simpleton and liar, victimizer and victim. But as a literary figure he never dies. The nearly 300 stories in this lovely volume are from Sephardic oral literature and ethnic culture. They were told to Matilda Koen-Sarano in their original language, Judeo-Spanish (Ladino), and documented over 21 years. From 17 countries, including the United States, they come together in this first-ever collection of Joha stories to appear in English. Known in some places as Ladino, Judeo-Spanish is a living remnant of the Spanish spoken by the Spanish Jews at the end of the 15th century. Matilda Koen-Sarano, born to a Sephardic family, has devoted her life to the conservation and revitalization of this language, culture, and heritage. Joha, according to Ladino tradition, is a popular folklore character, one who is conniving yet also beguiling. He plays many roles: He makes us laugh; liberates us from taboos; makes it possible to tell the whole, sometimes painful, truth in a humorous way; and helps us triumph over our enemies through laughter. These stories have entertained generations of Sephardic children and adults and will delight readers of any age.