A tapestry of firsthand testimony detailing the 19th and early-20th centuries' great wave of European immigration to the US- -dimmed, but not dulled, by merely serviceable commentary and an oddly self-limiting selection. This 12th in the publisher's Oral History Series, from Stave (History/Univ. of Conn.) and Sutherland (History/Manchester Community College), takes interviews gathered over the past 20 years by the authors' respective institutions and mixes them together with late-30's archives of the WPA Ethnic Group Survey. Emphasizing the fundamental disorientation of the immigrant experience, Stave and Sutherland find common bonds between diverse national groups in a thematic structure dealing successively with homelands and reasons for leaving them, the frequently traumatic journey to the New World, employment, family life, relations between the sexes, and interethnic tension. But in combining the national WPA material (the bulk of the book) with later studies, the authors keep the focus on their own state, leading to a jarring parochialism in which the end of the rainbow is always Bridgeport or Hartford or New Haven. Generally sketchy commentary adds little to the remaining material. The voices of the subjects themselves, however, prove inherently fascinating, by turns harrowing (two teenaged sisters, faced with factory layoffs and a brutal home life, drink poison and jump from a third-story window), magical (a penniless Austrian-Jewish arrival, sleeping under an ice wagon on a New York pier, is rescued by a Yiddish-speaking policeman), and genuinely poetic (a young Russian revelling in the New York of 1923: ``...this city appeared as a tremendous overstuffed roar, where people just burst with a desire to live''). Such diamonds—though in fairly rough settings—make a passable sparkler for oral history and immigration buffs.
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