The Jungle Room

The House of Twenty Thousand Books

The House of Twenty Thousand Books

Some of Hillway’s rooms had, by the time my generation came on the scene, ceased to have any functional purpose; the bibliographic flora had simply run rampant. In the diabolically cluttered little upstairs “office” or “study” — a room that Mimi’s mother, Bellafeigel, had inhabited in the 1950s for the alst four years of her life — spirals of reference books, Jewish art volumes, and bound collections of newspapers reached up toward the ceiling, surrounded by mountains of miscellaneous papers and handwritten correspondence. At some point, the room had become simply unusable; Chimen’s response had been to lock it from the outside and hide it from view. It was “the jungle room,” he mischievously told his friend David Mazower (the great-grandson of the Yiddish playwright and novelist Scholem Asch, whom Chimen had known in London decades earlier), when diving into one of the piles of papers to find a bound volume of rare Yiddish newspapers and into another to retrieve an armful of precious Bundist pamphlets, printed in late-tsarist Russian on onionskin. He always carried little black leather pouches full of numerous keys–to safes, to hidden rooms, to filing cabinets. Only he know which keys opened which locks, so it was a sure bet that one one would trespass into his deathtrap of an office accidentally. That said, when one of my cousins did sneak in behind him on one occasion, she saw him disappear into a tunnel through the piles that, she swore later, was carved out to just fit his form. In that room, after his death, my father and aunt found, buried under stacks of papers, old Russian folk art, as well as a small eighteenth-century Armenian Bible, perhaps four or five inches high and almost as thick, posted to Chimen decades earlier, the envelope in which it was contained never opened.

— Sasha Abramsky, The House of Twenty Thousand Books


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