From Publishers Weekly
Emma Lazarus's reputation rests on one poem, "The New Colossus," affixed to the base of the Statue of Liberty. Lazarus (1849–1887), however, was a much heralded artist in her day, and, as this new entry in the Jewish Encounters series shows, Lazarus was a formidable woman of passion and integrity. Poet Schor (a professor of English at Princeton) reveals Lazarus as a prodigy who briefly became the protégé of Ralph Waldo Emerson and later corresponded with Henry James and Robert Browning; a champion of Russian Jewish refugees, despite being a member of the highly assimilated Sephardic aristocracy ; and a Zionist before Zionism existed. In Schor's handling, Lazarus comes across more as a strong-willed, philanthropic woman who could write than as an artist driven to activism. Schor's text is marred by a couple of anachronisms, such as a reference to Google, and her prose can turn purple (she describes the morning of Lazarus's death as "sunless, strung with cloudy pearls"). For all that, while readers may not embrace Lazarus's poetry—it bears all the ponderous, orotund tendencies of its time—they will come to agree with Schor's assessment that Lazarus was a woman we might have liked to know. (Sept. 5)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Writing with great enthusiasm, Schor confirms that the author of "The New Colossus," the sonnet ensconced in the base of the Statue of Liberty, was no one-hit wonder. Until the 1930s, "The Banner of the Jew," a rallying song for establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, was her best-known composition. Lazarus (1849-87) was also controversially famous for the prose "Epistle to the Hebrews," expounding her ideas about Jewish identity as well as Palestine. Spurred by the crisis of the pogroms following Czar Alexander II's 1881 assassination, Lazarus set aside the gentility of her wealthy upbringing to advocate for the thousands of Jews whose flight for life left them destitute in New York. Her encounters with shtetl refugees and her trust in American freedom confirmed her belief that Judaism should be secular and universal, committed to justice, freedom, and revolution. She anticipated Zionism and, as a radical who didn't embrace socialism, much of non-Marxist Jewish politics. Moreover, Schor argues with engrossing persuasiveness, she "invented the role of the American Jewish writer." Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved