An often engaging story that will likely appeal to readers with an interest in genealogy, immigration history, or Jewish...


Cohen’s debut novel offers a fictionalized account of her immigrant grandfather and first-generation American grandmother as they struggle to grow up in New York City at the turn of the 20th century.

Isadore Goldshlager is a young, Romanian Jew who’s living in the town of Iasi at the outset of this story. The general anti-Semitic attitude of the Romanian government, as well as increasing violence against Jewish citizens, inspires him to get his parents’ permission to immigrate to America with a friend at the tender age of 15. Across the ocean in New York City, Gussie Brotman, the American-born daughter of Polish immigrants, is struggling to deal with the recent death of her father and the increasing demands on her time by her single mother, who needs help raising Gussie’s younger siblings. The narrative alternates between these two main characters as they steadily age, recounting the immigration challenges they faced, their encounters with bigotry, and their difficulties meeting family expectations and achieving the American dream. It’s easy to sympathize with the hardworking Isadore, who feels stuck without a trade, and who’s less attractive and successful than his younger brother. Gussie, too, is relatable as a young woman who’s cut off from school and peers, stuck babysitting her younger brother, and fantasizing while reading books that she borrows from the library. Although this fictional story draws upon the author’s family history, it’s not so sentimental that strangers will find it inaccessible. Indeed, anyone whose family has experienced the hardships of immigration and assimilation will appreciate the book’s message. In straightforward, matter-of-fact prose, Cohen portrays her characters’ foibles as well as their virtues. There are some mentions of unexplained Jewish customs and traditions, and some readers may need to do research to fully understand them. Overall, though, this book is appropriate for readers in their early teens and older.

An often engaging story that will likely appeal to readers with an interest in genealogy, immigration history, or Jewish history.  

Pub Date: Dec. 20, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5411-7036-0

Page Count: 232

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2017

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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