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3.71 of 5 stars 3.71  ·  rating details  ·  1,027 ratings  ·  161 reviews
A mesmerizing, heartbreaking graphic novel of immigrant life on New York’s Lower East Side at the turn of the twentieth century, as seen through the eyes of twin sisters whose lives take radically and tragically different paths.

For six-year-old Esther and Fanya, the teeming streets of New York’s Lower East Side circa 1910 are both a fascinating playground and a place where
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published April 3rd 2012 by Schocken (first published January 1st 2012)
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The Rabbi's Cat by Joann SfarThe Complete Maus by Art SpiegelmanUnterzakhn by Leela CormanWe Are On Our Own by Miriam KatinKlezmer, Book One by Joann Sfar
Jewish Graphic Novels
3rd out of 82 books — 16 voters
Persepolis by Marjane SatrapiFun Home by Alison BechdelAnya's Ghost by Vera BrosgolHark! A Vagrant by Kate BeatonHyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Comics & Graphic Novels by Women
128th out of 413 books — 378 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,359)
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Feb 15, 2013 Mariel rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: the streets
Recommended to Mariel by: amazons in short skirts
It was the best time of their lives. Identical twin sisters Fanya and Esther were little girls in the Lower East Side of New York City in 1910. This must mean do this, help in the shop, go fetch the lady-doctor to help this hemorrhaging pregnant woman on the sidewalk. Too late, what's an abortion, what's a lady doctor, who is going to take care of her children. Be pretty, be stupid and be married off one day out from under my feet. Under my thumb, be this, stay poor. An old woman who must have h ...more
This short and stupendous graphic novel made me realize that I've been reading too many books written by men. This may sound like a cliche, but there was no one you could ever imagine this author was not a woman. It doesn't mean it a graphic novel for women, it's just that this is a book about being a woman and even though it's set in early 1900's Lower East Side, a lot of of the decisions these two sisters have to make aren't very different from the choices that are presented to women nowadays. ...more
Jan 16, 2012 Rick rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: comics
Corman's absorbing book follows the lives of twin sisters Esther and Fanya, the children of Russian Jews, on the teeming streets of New York's Lower East Side. Beginning in 1909 when the six-year-old girls work alongside their seamstress mother, the tale follows each of their divergent lives. The young Fanya attracts the attention of the "lady-doctor" Bronia, who performs illegal abortions. Bronia teaches her how to read and mentors Fanya in the medical arts. Corman's evocative portrayal of heal ...more
Amanda L
My six cents:

1. All over the place. Individual chunks of the narrative never really connected, so I never felt it ultimately culminated in much. Also cut off rather abruptly at the end.

2. Depressing and hard to swallow but that doesn't weigh negatively for me (though it may for you!).

3. Female inequalities plaguing the era in which it takes place (early part of the 20th C. USA) played a big part, such as culturally-acceptable bar from formal education (consequently illiteracy), limited opportun
This was a total total stunner. Spanning several decades in the lives of two sisters in 1910s Lower East Side NYC, it's got incredibly evocative dark-lined drawings and paints a really stark picture of the catch-as-catch can tenement life. It was a perfect Jugs & Capes choice, as it's just steeped in lady troubles, from pregnancy and its avoidabilities to abortion and its complexities, from prostitution to chastity to hypocrisy to many very different kinds of faith. How to use your sexuality ...more
Identical twins Esther and Fanya, daughters of an unhappily married Eastern European Jewish immigrant couple, struggle to make sense of life on the Lower East Side in the early part of the twentieth century. The closer they get to adulthood, the more they understand about the world, and the more trapped, tangled and liberated they are by their individual ways of understanding. Clearly there is no such thing as freedom, but within the confined spaces of history and circumstance, they each make fa ...more
Elizabeth A
Once upon a time there were six year old twin sisters, Esther and Fanya. The sisters lived among the hustle and bustle of New York's Lower East Side circa 1910, a place where immigrants struggled to get their piece of the "golden land".

This historical graphic novel explores the coming of age of these sisters - their interests, the choices they make, the different lives they end up living. The bold sketchy black and white art really worked for this story, and I liked the juxtaposition of their y
Scott Patrick
Corman tells a short and moving story about two working-class twin Jewish girls growing up in early 20th century New York. The smart one, Fanya, becomes an apprentice to an underground family planning provider while the pretty one, Esther, joins the seedy entertainment underworld. As a man, I am somewhat reticent to judge too harshly a story that deals mostly with women and their issues, so I'll start with the art. It's distractingly bad. It's better than I can draw, admittedly, but it neverthel ...more
David Schaafsma
Early twentieth century lower east side Jewish historical fiction, focused on women: two twin sisters, one who becomes a prostitute/actress; women raising kids; women gynecological "doctors," prostitutes, moms, etc, but it's a women's world. Gaps in the narrative give it a sort of loose feel, as we jump across time... and the art has a kind of loose feel, too. (One other review used this word, Loose, I think, and I like that description). Kept my attention, liked it, didn't love it, but it is a ...more
Esther and Fanya are nearly identical twin sisters (Esther has a beauty mark to differentiate herself from her sister) growing up on the Lower East Side in the early 1900s. Yet the paths they take as they grow are both similar and vastly different. One goes to work for a madam, while the other apprentices under a midwife who also performs illegal abortions. It is surprising to see which one flourishes, and which one suffers tragedy.

I wanted to like this book so much more than I did. I loved the
Nellie Airoldi
Perché le donne, si sa, hanno il potere di essere terribilmente cocciute.
Unterzakhn chronicles the tale of two sisters as they grow up in 1910 New York. It shows us the paths that they each take in order to gain some of the famed "golden land of opportunity". I enjoyed the storytelling of this particular graphic novel, as it reminded me of Maus at times. It was not as depressing since the topic material is nowhere near as heavy, but it does a fine job of showing the idiosyncrasies in life. Things never turn out the way that you think they are going to and sometimes o ...more
Wandering Librarians
Fanya and Esther are twins, Jewish, and growing up in the early 1900s. Their mother believes that they will take over her dress shop, but both girls are pulled by very different interests in very different direction. Fanya begins assisting a woman who performs illegal abortions and helps birth babies, and Esther begins assisting at a brothel. As the girls grow older, they fall further in to these chosen professions, and their decisions pull them apart.

I read this in one sitting because I didn't
Loved the art, the stories, and of course, the Yiddish, one of my favorite languages of all. But the end felt incredibly abrupt - I don't mean because of what happens, but because we don't follow anybody after what happens (apologies for sounding like a crazy- trying to avoid spoilers...). And sometimes I didn't understand the flashbacks, why they were inserted where they are in the story, and why they end where they do before we jump back to the present. The extended backstory of the father's b ...more
Incredibly bold art, perfect for a story so wrought with the emotional extremes of the hard-lived life. I also loved the Greek-chorus-like vicious whispers that haunted the pages, in the background but unignorable. However, most impressive is how precise it all is. Leela Corman tells and shows exactly what you need to see to get the most from the story. Nothing is gratuitous. You can tell that every panel was painstakingly thought out and deliberately included. This is what lends the so much ump ...more
This was interesting. I usually don't go for historical fiction stories, but I really liked how personal the story and characters are enough that I totally didn't realize that the setting was not set in modern times. I guess love affairs are really just an interesting topic that doesn't change drastically throughout time. The character development was phenomenal. I love how the author allows readers become connected with them as they change from kids to adults (although I wish that the author fo ...more
This is pretty much exactly how I like my graphic novels - a stand alone story with no magical or fantasy elements, strong characters, and actual (and beautiful) illustrations vs. computer generated. This is the story of two sisters, Esther and Fanya, who are first generation Russian Jews growing up on the Lower East Side in the early part of the 20th century. As girls, they both start working for very different women and get mentored in very different ways. The universal storyline of learning t ...more
Christian McKay
Place this one up there with Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis and Craig Thompson's Blankets. Honest, simple, devastating. I think what intrigued me most about Corman's work is all of the panels she left out. She is a master of pacing and time.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I really wanted to like this book. Unfortunately, it offers little more than a series of tired tropes, undeveloped characters, and pretty awful dialogue. Blah.
The art was gorgeous and the premise was so appealing to me, but the whole thing was just bummer after bummer after bummer with no real story.
1909, New York. Anche una giornata al mercato può non risultare scontata: sei con tua madre, state scegliendo delle stoffe per il negozio che mandate avanti, quando dai rituali corsetti, tipici, propri, assai semplici, sei assorbita, deformata dal dolore. Devi correre, Fanya, non fa niente che tu non capisca. Trova Bronia, la dottoressa delle donne, vai in Hester Street. Perché l'angoscia è intensa, concreta e quella donna sanguina come un animale al macello. Sai anche troppo bene che tua madre ...more
Unterzakhn tracks the lives of two sisters, Esther and Fanya, living in New York at the start of the 20th century. The twin daughters of Jewish immigrant parents, their lives take divergent paths. One enters a brothel, eventually becoming an actress, and the other trains as a midwife and helps perform illegal abortions. Time eventually reunites the sisters, though only briefly.

Corman broaches a number of controversial topics, many of which center on women's reproductive rights, though her treatm
Unterzakhn - das heisst auf deutsch unterwäsche - erzählt die geschichte der zwillinge esther und fanya anfang des 20. jahrhunderts in new york. ihre eltern sind jüdische immigrant_innen und sie leben im jüdischen viertel new yorks. ihre ziemlich dominante mutter erwartet, dass sie ihr in ihrem geschäft helfen und hält schulbildung für unnötig, weil sie a) irgendwann den laden übernehmen und b) einen mann heiraten, für den es nicht wichtig ist, ob sie lesen und schreiben können. zum leid der mut ...more
"Unterzakhn" is a great recent addition to the limited selection of comic books and graphic novels featuring female protagonists. It's a coming-of-age tale, focused on twin sisters growing up on the Lower East Side in the first decades of the twentieth century, and not only is the story about two girls, but it's also largely focused on women-centric issues - not in the least of which is both literal and metaphorical "unterzakhn," Yiddish for "underthings."

There was so much for me to love about
Gene Kannenberg Jr
Esther and Fanya are twin sisters and first-generation Jewish Americans growing up on the Lower East Side of New York City in the early 20th Century in Leela Corman's graphic novel Unterzakhn ("underthings"). We follow the girls from around age six well into adulthood, tracing their very different but intertwined life paths: Fanya takes a job with a female doctor who specializes in women's health, while Esther works in a burlesque house / bordello before establishing herself in New York's arts s ...more
Robert Boyd
This story of two sisters in the New York Jewish immigrant community of the early 20th century is also a story of early grassroots feminism (there is a character who is an abortionist and dispenser of contraceptives--both highly illegal, who trains one of the sisters). One sister drifts into prostitution (which was intimately intertwines with entertainment--the whores gave a singing/dancing floor show in addition to servicing the johns). The other into working with Bronia the "cuziernerka" (a wo ...more
Josephus FromPlacitas
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Cheryl A
Unterzakhn (underthings) is the tale of twin sisters Fanya and Esther. Set in the Lower Eastside of New York in the early 1900's, there is also the underlying themes of early feminism, birth control, immigrant life and choices.

The story opens with Fanya being sent for the “lady doctor”. The doctor, Bronya, sees how smart Fanya is and takes her on as an apprentice. Esther wants to dance and falls into working at the local burlesque house, which doubles as a brothel. Each sister becomes further e
Davenport Public Library
Unterzakhn (yiddish for ‘underthings’) by Leela Corman tells the story of Jewish twin sisters at the start of the 20th century in New York City. Esther and Fanya’s stories are told in graphic novel form, spanning more than a decade from childhood through adulthood, with black and white illustrations reminiscent of Russian folk art. The sisters make decidedly different decisions in their lives, but they both chose career paths outside of community and family expectations of them and drift apart f ...more
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LEELA CORMAN has illustrated books on subjects ranging from urban gardening to the history of the skirt, and her work has also appeared in The New York Times, on WNET/Thirteen, and in The Boston Phoenix, Lilith, Bust, and Tikkun. She studied painting, printmaking, and illustration at Massachusetts College of Art. Leela is also a professional belly dancer. Her radio show, "Ecstacy to Frenzy" airs w ...more
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