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3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  1,369 Ratings  ·  179 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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Fun Home by Alison BechdelNimona by Noelle StevensonAnya's Ghost by Vera BrosgolHyperbole and a Half by Allie BroshThe Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Comics & Graphic Novels by Women
82nd out of 655 books — 729 voters
The Complete Maus by Art SpiegelmanThe Rabbi's Cat by Joann SfarHow Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry  DeutschUnterzakhn by Leela CormanKlezmer, Book One by Joann Sfar
Jewish Graphic Novels
4th out of 112 books — 19 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Feb 15, 2013 Mariel rated it liked it
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
Jan 21, 2012 Sofia rated it really liked it
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
Dec 26, 2014 Oriana rated it really liked it
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
Jan 16, 2012 Rick rated it it was amazing
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
David Schaafsma
Sep 28, 2014 David Schaafsma rated it liked it
Shelves: gn-women
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
Feb 20, 2016 Mahinn rated it it was amazing
I don't know how you could give this graphic novel anything but 5 stars. It's dazzling, dramatic, and devastating. The characters are remarkable of their own merit and the plot is labyrinthine. Such a refreshing departure from the linear narratives of other books in this genre.

Immigrant life in the early years of the 20th century in New York is illustrated in a dark, heavy hand that reflects hardship that is almost casual in its ubiquitousness. The characters are perfectly flawed and set so gra
Apr 20, 2015 Dov rated it really liked it
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
Dec 18, 2014 Elizabeth A rated it really liked it
Shelves: graphix, 2014
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
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
Scott Patrick
Aug 07, 2012 Scott Patrick rated it it was ok
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
Christian McKay
May 16, 2012 Christian McKay rated it it was amazing
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.
Nellie Airoldi
Oct 03, 2014 Nellie Airoldi rated it liked it
Perché le donne, si sa, hanno il potere di essere terribilmente cocciute.
May 28, 2012 Pauline rated it really liked it
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
May 08, 2012 Rosa rated it really liked it
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
Derek Parker
Aug 21, 2016 Derek Parker rated it really liked it
Reread 8/20/2016

This is an ambitious work, at least it starts as such. In its sweep, it remind me of the many immigrant and first-generation novels that make up much of Jewish American literature in the first half of the twentieth century. But there are a couple of aspects about this work that have me wondering. The first is the ending, which seems at the same time both truncated and a bit sentimental. (The flashback with the young sisters at the very end may be an attempt to quickly shift the
Jennifer S. Brown
This graphic novel was quite powerful, and while I know that many graphic novels have intense stories, this is the first one I read where I truly felt moved by the story. I became emotionally involved in the characters even though the story jumps around from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.

The story of Fanya and Esther is an eye-opening look at how women existed in the early part of the 20th century, with Esther becoming a prostitute/actress and Fanya working with a female-doctor, where she l
Apr 17, 2012 Crystal rated it really liked it
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
Sep 27, 2014 Jax rated it really liked it
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
Jul 04, 2016 Decca rated it liked it
This story had the potential to really be spectacular. A story of two sister set in the early 1900's that attempts to navigate through the convoluted maze that is women's sexuality. Unfortunately, the story fell very short of spectacular. I enjoyed the art. It felt old school, art deco-ish style, which complimented the storyline's time period. The story was really building momentum and was an interesting read and the suddenly, WHAM, it fell horribly flat. At some point the storyline became rushe ...more
May 22, 2015 Sarah rated it really liked it
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
Jan 05, 2013 BookCupid rated it really liked it
Shelves: graphic
This book narrates what I always believed in; that every family has terrible secrets. Although the theme of abortion and prostitution is present it doesn't overwhelm the story. In fact, this is more of a sisterhood, love ,and Jewish soap opera tale.

Jul 25, 2014 Erin rated it did not like it
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.
Apr 13, 2016 Kim rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, english, female
It is rare in graphic novels to have a theme on women's lives and it is also rare in graphic novels to have a good narrative. This book has both.
Oct 27, 2014 Sonia rated it it was ok
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.
Jan 30, 2015 Lia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 07, 2015 Jessica rated it liked it
Shelves: comics, 2015
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 10, 2015 Cat rated it liked it
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
Sep 20, 2014 Dazessin rated it really liked it
Shelves: graphic-novel
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
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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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