As part of The Classics 2011 Reading Challenge, without hesitation, I quickly chose two novels by Anzia Yezierska. During my graduate studies, I was introduced to Yezierska's collection of short stories, How I Found America, and was immediately captivated by this extraordinary author. A young Jewish immigrant living on New York's Lower East Side, Yezierska managed to publish six books between 1920 and 1932. As literary scholar, Alice Kessler-Harris so accurately explains in the introduction, Yezierska's constant themes are the dirt and congestion of the tenement, the struggle against poverty, family, and tradition, to break out of the ghetto, and then the searing recognition that her roots would always lie in the old world. All of Yezierska's writings contain a sense of autobiograhpy but none more so than The Bread Givers.
The Bread Givers, immediately transports the reader back in time to the tenements of New York's Lower East Side during the early 1920's and the struggles of young Jewish immigrant, Sara Smolinsky. Caught between her old world values and her deep desire to become an "American", Sara's plight towards independence is heart-wrenching to say the least. As Sara tries to break free from her dominating Rabbi father and Jewish traditions, she is soon faced with similar barriers in the form of greedy landlords, "sweat shop" bosses, as well as the prevailing prejudice against immigrants. During a period in American history when it was widely unacceptable to for a woman to be educated, Sara was convinced the only way to succeed and achieve the "American Dream" was through eduction.
I honestly cannot speak highly enough of this novel. Yezierska provides us with so much more than a coming of age novel. The pages are abundant with history, the plight of immigrants, and the struggles of women seeking equality and a sense of self-identity in a male-dominated society at the turn of the century. Yezierska's writing was initially criticized for the use of "simple language" and Jewish dialect, and yet, it's these very characteristics that bring her writing to life. A truly enjoyable read that I can easily give a 5!