Bread Givers

Brief Description: Young Russian Jewish immigrant woman strives to overcome poverty, struggles between old world and new world values

Geographical Setting: , , , ,

Historical Era:

Date Range: 1920s

Keywords: , ,

Original Publication: 1925

Suitable for Grades: 7th and up

Target Audience: Middle Grade, Teen

Librarian's Review

In this semi-autobiographical novel about Jewish immigrants set in the 1920s in New York’s Lower East Side, our heroine Sara Smolinsky struggles to overcome poverty and her willful father to become an independent young woman working as a professional teacher.  Although the novel can be seen as a struggle between Jewish old world and American new world values, with the father representing the old world, I found his depiction to be unsympathetic and overly stereotypical – he is obsessed with his own spiritual well-being to the detriment of the five women in his household (in addition to Sara he lives with his wife and three older daughters.)  He takes up one whole room in their two-room house for his desk and his beloved books.  He brings in no income, but expects his daughters to work and bring home all of their wages.  He expects his wife to serve him up with the best, if meager, pieces of food, while the working girls go hungry.  Sara watches him virtually ruin his older daughters’ lives by arranging unsuitable marriages, and she will have none of it.  He thinks himself exceedingly clever, despite all evidence to the contrary.  I could not forgive him his self-centered foolishness and it made the novel unenjoyable for me.  It may be especially hard to read in our era of women’s equality.  My distaste for the father should not overshadow my admiration of Sara, however.  She is an entertaining narrator, and she does overcome her circumstances, thankfully!

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