Accusatory autobiographical fiction, first published in 1936 as The Devil’s Dance, enumerates the frustrations of an intellectually curious woman denied opportunities for education and self-expression.
Kreitman (1891—1954) was the older sister of Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer and his famous novelist brother I.J. Singer. Her narrative thinly fictionalizes the known facts of Kreitman’s own life, beginning in the Russian village where 14-year-old Deborah Ber chafes under parental rules that favor her unambitious brother Michael and consign her to a future of marriage, motherhood, and domestic routine. Father Reb Avram is a passive failure as a rabbi, whose moves to an impoverished Polish village, then Warsaw fail to improve his family’s fortunes. And Deborah’s mother Raizela, an embittered woman educated above her station, is both the family’s backbone and its scourge. Matters worsen when, in Warsaw, Deborah attends evening classes and discovers socialism, fuelling her hunger for experience and knowledge. And when an arranged marriage pairs her with an unemployable diamond-cutter, she finds herself in Antwerp on the eve of WWI, “in a foreign land among new-found relatives who filled her with loathing.” Deborah has an arresting pedigree: I.B. Singer acknowledged its author as the inspiration for his celebrated tale of female promise stifled, “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy.” Yet—pace earnest attempts to elevate Kreitman in the feminist canon—it’s pretty poor stuff. Only in the closing pages, which sharply dramatize Deborah’s irreversible disillusionment and depression, does it rise above resentment and rant. For most of its length, the novel is redundant, humorless, and airless.
Essentially a curiosity, of some documentary value, but only marginal literary interest.