Fermaglich’s thorough research and bright insights produce a provocative account of a seldom-explored cultural phenomenon.

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A ROSENBERG BY ANY OTHER NAME

A HISTORY OF JEWISH NAME CHANGING IN AMERICA

An exploration of how, during times of social stress and rampant anti-Semitism, large numbers of Jews in America formally applied to change their names to less ethnically identifiable ones.

Fermaglich (History and Jewish Studies/Michigan State Univ.; American Dreams and Nazi Nightmares: Early Holocaust Consciousness and Liberal America, 1957-1965, 2006, etc.) looks at the applications for name changes in New York City from the 1920s to the present. She notes that the “institutionalized” anti-Semitism in the country following World War I prompted many to register for a name change; sometimes, entire families did so. The changers usually felt that their patently Jewish names were hurting them regarding employment, residence, college applications, and other areas. As the author notes, sometimes these changes created conflict in families—and among the general Jewish population, who occasionally found such changes to be evidence of self-loathing and of disrespect for cultural history. But as Fermaglich demonstrates, the trend has diminished: Non-Jewish Americans have become less openly biased against Jews, and colleges have removed application questions designed to identify Jews. In NYC today, Jews no longer dominate the requests for name changes. The author clearly spent hours poring through official records in the city (she provides some charts and other illustrations), and she offers summaries of similar research done elsewhere in the country and shows us how the name-changing practice appeared in the popular culture throughout the decades. Some familiar names pop up in her discussions—e.g., Arthur Miller, Henry Roth, Bernard Malamud, and Philip Roth. The text is academic in tone and presentation (40 pages of endnotes follow), and the virtual absence of subheadings and breaks of other sorts renders the volume not entirely reader-friendly. However, the rewards for resolute readers are considerable.

Fermaglich’s thorough research and bright insights produce a provocative account of a seldom-explored cultural phenomenon.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4798-6720-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: New York Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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