- Hardcover: 476 pages
- Publisher: Kessinger Publishing, LLC (May 23, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781161475593
- ISBN-13: 978-1161475593
- ASIN: 1161475591
- Product Dimensions: 7 x 1.1 x 10 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 36 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,722,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Rise of David Levinsky
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Abraham Cahan's book tells the story of David Levinski, a young Russian Jewish who emigrated to America after the death of his mother. In Russia he is a Talmud scholar, his life is his studies.
Arriving in NYC he works on assimilating into a new country, a new way of life, whole still holding onto his religious beliefs. As the book progresses we see him become more American, less Jewish, trapped between the two. He becomes a successful businessman, goes from poverty to great wealth, but loses so much in the bargain.
The book shows how we can regret what we left and not be happy with what we have. How the loss of a cultural identity can outweigh the identity we assume.
It also describes life in NYC during the late 1800s, life of immigrants on the Lower East Side and what they went through.
A great book, written in 1917 it is real because Cahan lived during the times he describes.
The author, Ab. Cahan, was a fervent socialist and ardent trade-unionist. He wrote this novel in English for a major American magazine, McClure's. At the same time he was the editor of the world's largest Yiddish newspaper, The Jewish Daily Forward. The collected stories were published in book form in 1917.
David Levinsky, who is orphaned when his mother is killed by anti-Semitic peasants in his hometown in Russia, makes his way to America. This book is his story, the tale of a man who by hook and crook, makes his way in the world, alone.
He learns English, he becomes an American and he also becomes a very wealthy businessman, a factory-owner and big shot. However, he cannot shake his loneliness and desire for a wife and family.
Actually, what he really needed was a good psychotherapist but, unfortunately, he was at least thirty years too early for that.
I found the book fascinating with its vivid descriptions of life among the Eastern European Jewish New York immigrant population. It reminded me of the work of Horatio Alger, the great American juvenile author who described the trip from rags to riches.
Unlike Alger's heroes, however, David Levinsky is hopelessly neurotic.
He finds the opportunity for misery in the most fruitful situations. This is a man who, while being a talented businessman, really screws up interpersonal relationships, especially with women to whom he is attracted.
If you read the book, which I do recommend, get the Penguin paperback edition as another reviewer suggests. You will be glad that you did. I got mine used since it doesn't seem to be offered new at this time.
"Levinsky" is a rare example of the novel that works both as history and as literature. Cahan's firsthand observations of late 19th century industrial America and of the immigrants' struggles to adapt to life in a new land are compelling in their own right. But this is no mere slice of life realism. Cahan created complex characters who face conflicts beyond the struggle to survive.
Cahan's main character, Levinsky, spends the first part of the book struggling to master the Talmud in his village in Russia. Here Cahan introduces us to Levinsky's incisive mind, one that will serve him well when he goes to America and begins to serve a new master: business. In the opening section, Cahan also develops one of several beautifully drawn supporting characters: Levinsky's mother.
By novel's end, we realize the irony of the novel's title. On one level, Levinsky's story is a classic tale of rags-to-riches, American-style success. On the other, his story is one of failure to achieve the rich, personal, intellectually stimulating connection with others that he has craved since childhood.
This great novel deserves to be on the short list of indispensable American fiction. One seeking to understand the roots of our country would be hard pressed to do better than to read it.