Part memoir, part anecdotal history of the three million East European Jews who streamed to these shores—particularly to New York City—between 1880 and 1920. Gay, author of The Jews of Germany (1992), draws largely on memories of her immigrant parents and their friends, as well as her own peers' coming of age in the Bronx. Her emphasis is on social history, particularly the domestic arena; some of Gay's chapters are entitled ``Chairs,'' ``Awnings,'' and ``Corsets.'' While she glosses over the intellectual and political ferment that Irving Howe explored in depth in World of Our Fathers, Gay is far more informative on the texture of everyday life, on the import of such matters as clothes, furnishings, food (she includes the recipe for ``Tante Elke's Honey Cake''), schools, and small shops. She also writes insightfully about the patriarchal nature of traditional Jewish culture (she quotes the Yiddish proverb, ``When one has daughters, laughter vanishes'') and about the immigrant generation's industriousness, thrift, seriousness, and aversion to fun. Gay has an easy, engaging style, although her book's content constitutes a kind of history lite. While she quotes a significant number of English primary and secondary sources, Gay cites none from the immigrants' primary language, Yiddish. And her book is marred by some silly generalizations, as when she writes, ``I think the immigrant generation did not see happiness as a legitimate goal in life.'' Still, if Gay lacks the intellectual range of a Howe or the imaginative sparks of a Kate Simon or Grace Paley, she has written an enjoyable, easily digestible introduction to her parents' and her own generations' uneven and sometimes uneasy acculturation.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-393-03991-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1996

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


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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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