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Bread Givers: A Novel 3rd Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 123 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0892552900
ISBN-10: 0892552905
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Conscious of her outsider status - a Polish immigrant, a writer in a foreign language, a Jewish female - Anzia Yezierska takes us inside an early twentieth-century American immigrant Jewish family, a family without a son to lighten their load or brighten their lives. Sarah, the narrator of Bread Givers, describes with urgency and in detail the lives she, her sisters, and her mother live to support their revered, torah-reading father: their crowded shared rooms so he can study undisturbed; the numerous jobs all but he work to maintain the family and support his books, charities, and manner of dress; his constant and often impossible demands. Sarah struggles to remain loyal: "I began to feel I was different than my sisters... If they ever had times they hated Father, they were too frightened of themselves to confess... But could I help it what was inside me? I had to feel what I felt even it killed me." Through profuse and perceptive dialogue, Anzia Yezierska brings to life a heritage whose strength, wisdom, and idiom continue, seventy years later, to enrich North American culture and language. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. -- From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Jesse Larsen

One of the authentic and touching testaments of the struggle of Jewish immigrants, especially Jewish women, to find their way in the new world. -- Irving Howe --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Anzia Yezierska (1882-1970) was born in Poland and came to the Lower East Side of New York with her family in 1890 when she was nine years old.  By the 1920s she had risen out of poverty and become a successful writer of stories, novels―all autobiographical―and an autobiography, Red Ribbon on a White Horse (Persea). Her novel Bread Givers (Persea) is considered a classic of Jewish American fiction. Her acclaimed books also include How I Found America: Collected Stories and The Open Cage. She died in 1970.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Persea; 3 edition (August 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0892552905
  • ISBN-13: 978-0892552900
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (123 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,652 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bruce J. Wasser on December 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
Some 75 years after its initial publication, Anzia Yezierska's Bread Givers surely deserves recognition as a classic of Amerian literature. I regret not having read this moving and provocative novel earlier in my life; I know its themes of self-discovery, conflicted Jewish identity and Americanization would have encouaged both identification and introspection. I am astonished that high schools today do not include this as an essential core text (instead opting to use F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby, also published in 1925 as a paradigmatic novel). Yezierska's novel has the ring of truth to it, resonating with such crucial themes as self-awareness, cultural marginalization of immigrants, loss and recovery of ethnic identity, feminist discontent and awakening sexuality. In my mind, Sara Smolinsky has far more to teach us about the American Dream than Jay Gatsby. Yet, the prevailing literary criticism lionizes the WASP world-view of Fitzgerald and essentially disregards the Jewish/immigrant sensibilities of Yezierska.
The novel is uncommonly accessible. Dialogue carries much of the action; the chapters could be read as independent short stories, and internal soliloquies provide us with the opportunity to test our own judgments against those of the earnest and self-actualizing Sara Smolinsky. The suffocating but omniscient presence of her tyrannical father best represents Sara's constant confrontation with conflict. The dilemmas provided by the father-daughter relationship ring with universal truths even though the setting is particular to the Hester Street Easter European Jewish experience. I know that my Latino, Asian, and Pacific Islander students could easily translate this novel, some three generations old, into their own experiences.
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Format: Paperback
It is difficult to read BREAD GIVERS by Anzia Yezierska and not feel the same barrage of competing emotions that afflict nearly everyone in the book. On a literal level, Yezierska writes of the struggle of Russian/Polish Jews to assimilate in the New York just before the First World War. The action is narrated over a period of some dozen years by Sara Smolinsky, who begins the novel as a ten year old girl, one of three other sisters. We see the action filtered through her eyes, so there is the natural reaction to perceive events as she does. But what she sees is so emotionally shattering that the reader soon learns to substitute his own experiences as that filter.
Sara and her family live in New York but their world view is heavily shaped by their origins in the Old World of eastern Europe. In that society, the male head of the household is the master. Not only does he dare claim that women have no place in running a household, but he also can point to the Torah as justification. Sara's father, the Reb Smolinsky, is drawn in such a nasty, vindictive way that he all but emerges as a one dimensional caricature of all that can go wrong when one hides behind saintly words as an excuse to bully others. The Reb refuses to work for money; he expects his family to do that, leaving him time to study the Torah. He routinely squashes flat his daughters' confidence by insulting them daily. He arranges disastrous marriages for them, and when these marriages go predictably bad, he avoids responsibility by telling them, 'As you make your bed, so must you sleep in it.' But because he appears in every chapter, he, rather than Sara, becomes the center of dramatic focus. He is so vile and hateful that the reader even begins to question the source of the Reb's tirades: the Torah itself.
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Format: Paperback
Even though this book is probably set anywhere from the late 1890's to early 1920's--as the book was first published in 1925--as a woman it is hard not to be totally offended by Reb. Smolinsky's attitudes towards women. He says: "A woman without a man is less than nothing. A woman without a man can never enter Heaven." As a Christian, I obviously find this belief to be totally untrue, but it is the statement that a woman is nothing without a man that just makes me wish that Reb. Smolinsky was standing in front of me so I could strangle him.
Even though I hated the father more than words can say, I still gave this book five stars because it is so unbelievably inspiring. Sara Smolinsky does not allow her father to completely dominate her. She does not allow him to marry her off to a man that she does not love--like he did her three older sisters. She leaves home around the age of seventeen and works in a laundry store all day and takes night classes at night for years so that she can go to college. She has to make so many sacrifices along the way, but she never gives up on her dream of graduating from college and becoming a teacher. The fact that she was able to work her way out of poverty, get an education, and obtain her dream of becoming a teacher was just so inspirational.
I read this book for a literature class on American Immigrants, and I am so thankful that teacher assigned the book because I got a lot out of it. Watching Sara's transformation in this book from an uneducated and emotionally uncontrolled woman into a cool and controlled professional who could succeed in America, in a way her father never could, was a kind of growing experience for me, as well.
Also, as I neared the end of the book, I kind of began to see the father in a different light.
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