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Shtetl: The Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews Hardcover – October 2, 1997
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Top Customer Reviews
The author has a clear agenda, which is to be more balanced in her treatment of Poles than Jewish writers have usuually been and to be more balanced in her treatment of Jews than Poles have been. The book digs deeply into the sources of Polish perceptions of Jews and vice versa. It gives a deep feel for what life was like in Jewish communities in Poland. The chapter on the period between World Wars I and II is particularly good for showing the political, cultural and economic vibrancy that had come even to the rural shtetls. It must be one of the most "objective" books written about the historical relationship between Jews and Poles. A sympathetic portrait of both peoples that celebrates their virtues and describes their shortcomings as perceived by the other.
I appreciated the author's attempts at balance and her non-vindictive tone especially considering her own background. Focussing on how events played out in one particular town, grounds the account in the lives of real people and makes the subject more accessible. This is a good book for general readers but it suffers from overly academic language and a tendency to repeat itself in some places. I also thought the author's thesis about multiculturalism was underdeveloped.
Shtetl is essentially a history of the complex and often tangled relationship between Poles and Jewish Poles. Hoffman tells the history of a small village in Poland named Bransk which, at one time, had a demographic that was significantly influenced by its sizeable minority Jewish population. She uses the story of Bransk as a case study and places her findings about this town into a greater historical context with several chapters of in depth research on the history of Poland in relation to the Jewish question.
I suspect that, like me, many of the reviewers gave this book four, rather than five stars because of Hoffman's exacting, yet sometimes tedious history of Jewish-Polish relations. In all fairness, although Hoffman is no David McCullough (in the sense of breathing life into monotonous historical facts through superior story telling capabilities), she does masters the English language in her own style (I had a dictionary close by the entire time I was reading). Fortunately, she interrupts the history lessons with meaningful and relevant first-hand accounts from her interviews with individual Jews and Poles who lived in Bransk when the Jewish community was still intact there.
If you are looking for a book on Jewish history with strong entertainment value, you've come to the wrong place. However, if you would like to read a refreshingly objective historical account of Jewish-Polish relations, I highly recommend Hoffman's Shtetl.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Received a library copy with photo pages falling out. I'm glad to have the book but this is not what was described. :-(Published 14 months ago by C. Wilson
The book may be a bit dry in the beginning, but the history is important to understand why so many Jewish people were slaughtered in WW2, and they were run out of Russia, and then... Read morePublished 16 months ago by medic 23rd l950 51
Wonderfully readable of life in the shtetl. It is less on the economics and more on the culture.Published 17 months ago by Nathan Carter
Interesting and educational. Learned about the place shetels played in Jewish/European history and how the murder of their Jews changed the life of those who remained both during... Read morePublished 19 months ago by Linda Kay
I must first say that I am blown away by Ms. Hoffman's clear and concise summary of the problems during WWII between the Poles and Jews. Read morePublished on December 27, 2012 by Magda Denes
Very few all-encompassing books about life in the Polish Shtetl before World War II are readily available. Many, written in the 80's, are out of print. Read morePublished on September 20, 2012 by Kelly Hock