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The Pale of Settlement (Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction) Paperback – October 1, 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press (October 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 082033331X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0820333311
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #463,075 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Setting nine linked stories against a turbulent political background, Singer follows New York City journalist Susan Stern over two decades, as she flounders through a string of failed love affairs and maintains close relationships with Israeli relatives. Visiting her paternal grandparents in Haifa, Susan finds Israel relatively normal despite the 1982 Lebanon War. She loses some of her naïveté when her soldier-cousin, Gavi, joins a cult in the aftermath; after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Gavi's behavior becomes even more difficult to navigate. By that point, Susan realizes she still has feelings for an ex-boyfriend who calls in a panic to confess that a casual girlfriend is pregnant with his child. Susan's affair with a married man is told in tandem with a tale about her grandmother's difficult first years in British-occupied Haifa, while a maternal uncle who is a Jerusalem archeologist digs up a more recent, and more uncomfortable, truth. The latter revelation is touched off by 2002 reports of violence in Israel: Susan feels guilt and responsibility for the ongoing political crisis, but also a deep yearning for the country. Many story lines go unresolved, but the end result is a pungent composite portrait of a strong, complicated woman. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“Much like Primo Levi's, Singer's prose is sparse, searing, and hauntingly descriptive.”—Betsy Sussler, BOMB Magazine


“What results is a lyrical, thoughtful, never trite reflection on Israel and Palestine that has won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. The book is written with a large audience in mind, and there is enough historical background and explanation for anyone to follow along. . . . Singer must be credited with fiercely considering a controversial topic and remaining true to language.”—Venus Zine

"Singer's seasoned and deeply moving interlinked stories about politics, memory and identity read more like the work of a veteran novelist and add up to one of the most astonishing literary debuts in recent memory. . . . With heartbreaking beauty, grace and wisdom, The Pale of Settlement offers us stories of the sort of penetrating novelistic depth rarely achieved in short fiction, recounting the forceful ways that the past, whether remote or near, urgently intrudes on the present."—Ranen Omer-Sherman, Miami Herald

"[Singer] deftly sets larger political themes next to smaller personal ones, as the daily choices her characters make reflect the larger forces that have set those characters and their ancestor into motion. . . . The linked short stories that make up The Pale of Settlement work far better than a more conventional narrative would in telling the tale of Susan's family."—Margaret Quamme, Columbus Dispatch

"Should reassure us that the short story remains a deliciously shape-shifting genre . . . The stories in The Pale of Settlement make a strong impression, offering a debut collection that is mature, confident, and haunting."—Catherine Browder, New Letters

"The triumph of Singer's The Pale of Settlement is that we enjoy the questions as much as any answers that might appear."—Alan Cheuse, NPR's All Things Considered

"Singer writes clearly, succinctly, and effectively. The characters are believable, and the stories uplifting but realistic. Modern issues—terrorism and the second Lebanon war—intrude, but do not overwhelm, a testament to Singer's skill and artistry."—Jewish Book World

"Margot Singer gives brave and eloquent voice to a new generation of Jewish wanderers in a global diaspora. In her stories, Israel is the first, enduring love, the place of origin and ending—but for many of her Israeli characters, a difficult and increasingly destructive love. The question of ‘home’ remains finally, dazzlingly, undecidable. Singer guides us, as one who knows, into the complex labyrinth of history where lives arise, and too often are unraveled. She is a marvel of a writer."—Judith Grossman, author of Her Own Terms

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By B. Evans on November 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Publishers Weekly provides a synopsis of Singer's stories; the Product Description under Editorial Reviews encapsulates her collection in its entirety. But what both inexplicably fail to mention, as do other reviews and the tributes on the book's back cover, is what a gifted writer Singer is. It was, in fact, her well-crafted, descriptive prose that compelled me to read this collection in one evening, then reread countless passages the next. Be certain to read the "Search Inside" excerpt of the first story to see why lovers of good writing will be hooked by the end of the second paragraph. And savor the passages that I've included below to further establish that THE PALE OF SETTLEMENT is indeed a literary treasure.

But first, A NOTE OF CAUTION: Readers who prefer linear plots and action probably will not care for this book, which is predominately a collection of musings that shift back and forth between present and past and various countries, even within a single story.

In "LILA'S STORY," Susan studies photographs taken shortly after her grandparents had immigrated to Palestine: "Here is my grandmother...arms linked with her two sons, posing on the beach. She is beautiful, or almost, cat-eyed and slim, with an aquiline nose and prematurely white hair. Here she is leaning against a railing by the sea...The camera has caught that fleeting moment that precedes the self-consciousness of a smile, and that, with that slight squint and wind-blown hair, makes her look contemplative and a little reckless, both vulnerable and brave."

"DEIR YASSIM" begins with Susan ruminating about the ashes of her uncle: "All the way from New York to Tel Aviv, she keeps the box beneath the seat in front of her....
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Edward on November 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An astonishing collection; individually each story stands on its own but read together they achieve a novelistic depth and texture. Rarely does writing about Israel & Palestine by "outsiders" achieve this kind of insight and truth. Singer gets every detail right. But cultural specificity aside, these stories are timelesss in their beauty, piercing truths, and unforgettable characterizations.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Timothy J. Bazzett on December 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Gobsmacked." It's a term I don't think I've ever used personally, but I see it a lot these days. And Margot Singer's stories in THE PALE OF SETTLEMENT affected me that way, leaving me open-mouthed, speechless, utterly astounded. Because these interconnected stories of a family are simply beautiful. Words fail me, because I'm afraid I'll screw things up just trying to describe what Singer has created here.

But what the hell, I've gotta say something, right? So here goes. For those of you who shy away from short stories, as so many of today's readers regretfully do, fear not. These stories all fit together, because they concern multiple generations of a single Jewish family, with the focus on Susan Stern, a writer-journalist, who has managed to break free of the restrictions of that "pale of settlement" that gives the book its name. And I had to look that up, I'll admit. It refers to a geographic area of Czarist Russia where Jews were permitted to live. An enormous "ghetto" created by Catherine the Great which included much of Poland and Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire.

During the mid-twentieth century countless Jews managed to emigrate from the then-USSR and ended up in Israel. And that is the point of origin for Susan Stern's family, the port city of Haifa. There is much in these stories of continuing Arab-Israeli tensions, the brief wars, the bombings, the checkpoints, the compulsory military service for both men and women, which is routinely taken for granted, a 'rite of passage' to adulthood. Susan's mother, Leah, meets someone during her own service, and there are hints of an illicit affair, perhaps with one of 'enemy,' and she is hustled off to New York City by her concerned and controlling widowed father.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By David H. Ebenbach on May 28, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The Pale of Settlement is a collection of linked stories, which means you get two pleasures: the pleasure of the individual stories on their own, and the pleasure of their interconnections, which is to say the novelistic pleasure of a larger accumulating story. They all center around Susan, a character in a range of complex relationships: with boyfriends, with family, with Judaism, with the state of Israel. The relationships, complex enough on their own, operate against a backdrop of powerful forces: news, conflict, terrorism, history. (As author Nicholas Delbanco says, "These are very personal stories embedded in the public sphere.") These stories travel across the world and through the fraught territory of the heart.
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