“He was the Old World. I was the New” (207).

Hi Readers! I know this books isn’t on my list of books to read, but I can promise you that I am still trying to get around to those books! Hopefully this weekend will be filled with the promise of being able to read something that is not required. However, this novel was required and has now become one of those books that does not leave your memory easily. One of the professors who teaches the class said, “It might not be the best, well-written book, but it is still good.” I disagree. I believe it was well-written and offered an amazing glimpse into the life of people during the 1920’s–parts really upset me (as anyone who has been following my blog or maybe knows me can tell you, I become deeply attached to the characters) and I wanted to throw the book because certain things, that I will get into later, happened. Ambiguity just does not sound good on me sometimes, particularly now. In any case, may I present…

Bread Givers, by Anzia Yezierska, is ultimately a novel about the self-creation of a young Jewish woman named Sara Smolinkey.Yezierska wrote in a way that truly depicts the sad status of women during the time period–especially in regards to relationships between Sara and her family, the society that she lives in, and her conflict with religion. To be quite honest, there are only certain period authors and period films that I enjoy because (call me a feminist if you wish) it is always so dramatically male dominated, whether intentional or not–the male leads are typically screwing up in some magical way that only a man can. But apart of from that, I really, truly enjoyed reading Bread Givers and getting to know each character.

The novel focused on Sara, but it was from her point of view–which, in the beginning was hazy, and I could not really tell if I was ever going to hear about her and what she thought. She has three sisters: Bessie, Mashah, and Fania. In the beginning I was not sure what to think of Fania, I liked Bessie, and I could not stand Mashah because she did not do a thing for her family.  Sara’s mother is a woman who once stole hearts and now is, what I like to call, a domestic engineer (stay at home mom) and her father is a rabbi–one who stretches and skews the Torah (Jewish holy book)–that alone irritated me. For most, if not all of the novel, Sara and her father are at each other’s necks over what Sara should or should not be doing.

It is so frustrating because Sara’s father wants to be American and he encourages his family to drop everything that was familiar to them so they can go to a place that is never what anyone says it is: America, land of the free, to pursue that which makes you happy, blah blah blah. I am by no means saying that the freedoms I have are not appreciated, but we are a nation of hypocrites. We say we are welcoming, but that’s only if you’re visiting; even then we are not very nice. Maybe I am biased, but being helpful and welcoming must be a Northwest thing. Anyway, he says all these things about America, probably based on brochures or something to that effect, but his family arrives and they live in poverty for years. He marries three of his four daughters off to men they do not love, mind you, he dragged his three eldest daughters away from the men that they did love, so of course, Sara sees this and knows of their unhappiness–she fights away from it. She breaks away–goes to college and becomes a teacher–I am purposely leaving out all of the hardships she encounters along the way–most of it from her father. You will have to read to find our the other details and the ending–I encourage you to read it!

In a sense, I know what she is thinking about her father–in a way, I feel the same way about my own. He never did a thing to help my family and all he did was play a tyranic role in their lives, her father religion, mine, that’s another story. I don’t believe that anyone should be using their holy book as a means to boss, abuse, manipulate, whatever. For the time, I am sure that it was normal and acceptable for a woman to be treated like crap–but that is not okay anymore, just for the record. Now to get back on track… her father  studies all day, does not work to help his family, who thanks to him, are perpetually poor. His wife gives him the best of everything and still, nothing is good enough. He is so removed from responsibility that he uses religion and arrogance as a crutch; so removed, he has no idea how much work his daughters do so that he can have the tastier pieces of their meals while they starve. I guess I just find it horrible that religion is so male dominated–if a higher being loves everyone, then should we not all be treated as equals?

It is so obvious that the Smolinksy family is hierarchical and stereotypical towards how women should be and how they should act. Sara’s family is constantly clawing at her to get a husband. That she is nothing without a man. That she will have nothing without a man. My first thought is B.S. It may as well be a selfish comfort to know that Sara truly believes that if she is going to be someone’s somebody, she needs to make something of herself. She does not want the life her mother and sisters have lived, and to be quite honest, I would not want that either. I guess I can say that I can connect with Sara on this level–I want to make something of myself before I have a family of my own–I want to live and to be successful on my own terms and not need a man for me to get where I want to go. To know that I have done everything on my own, independent and free–being able to live for me would be the sweetest reward because nobody can take that away.

So, I am sure I might have missed something, however– in conclusion, I think this is one of the best books I have ever read. I am stoked for the next American Immigrant Experience novel. Apprehensive at first? Definitely. Will I be passing my book around to my friends so they can read it and add their own ideas and notes? Hell yes! Reading this novel was a great experience and I can’t wait to read it again–however, I have a reading list and other course required novels to get through before I can do that, haha! That being said, I give Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers a 4/4.5 out of 5. Happy reading!