THE LANDSMEN by Peter Martin


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A cyclic panorama of the tiny village of Golinsk, near Minsk, in Russia, in terms of the handful of Jews who lived there. Taken as a microcosm of Jewishness, intensified by the very limitations in numbers and the need to sustain the traditions, the Golinsk Jews might be said to highlight those emotional factors and exclusiveness which have kept orthodoxy alive through the ages. The period spanned in the stories of the individuals making up the community embraces chiefly the last half of the 19th century. The thrust forward to the present carries less conviction than the minutely detailed portrait of a period when the Jews lived in hourly terror of the reaching hand of the Czar's officers seeking their sons for the army. It was not military service with its all-encompassing containment of the best years of their lives that they dreaded, so much as the inevitability of the weakening of their Jewishness. And it is around this theme that the stories are built, whether it is Yeersel speaking, as an elder whose piety was at times his sin; or Nochim, who put aside his daughter Lenka, because the village Squire, a Gentile, had used her; or Maisha, teacher of two generations of the children of Golinsk, who took to raise, the orphaned sons of Aaron and Leah; or Mottel, the smith, ostracized because he flaunted his divergence from the faith; or Laib, his nephew, who risked everything, even the faith, to learn to play the fiddle. The book is overlong and repetitive; possibly some of its effectiveness lies in this very repetition. But the theme is not one that will appeal to a wide circle of non-Jewish readers, and despite a possible critical acclaim, we question its saleability.

Pub Date: Aug. 11th, 1952
Publisher: Little, Brown