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Bread Givers

3.68  ·  Rating Details ·  3,756 Ratings  ·  351 Reviews
This masterwork of American immigrant literature is set in the 1920s on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and tells the story of Sara Smolinsky, the youngest daughter of an Orthodox rabbi, who rebels against her father's rigid conception of Jewish womanhood. Sarah's struggle towards independence and self-fulfillment resonates with a passion all can share. Beautifully redesi ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published August 1st 2003 by Persea (first published 1925)
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Jan 17, 2016 Joey rated it really liked it
Even up to this day, in the Philippines, fathers are still considered as the head of the family. No matter what happens, he is the one who decides against anything concerning familial problems. It is neither the mother nor the eldest child. It is just him none other than anyone else in the family. There are some cases that a father figure tends to be authoritarian and dictatorial. No matter what you opine of is not acceptable for him. Your opinions and suggestions will just go in the ear and out ...more
Dec 30, 2016 BlackOxford rated it it was amazing
Male Liberation

A gem in so many dimensions: King Lear with an extra daughter, a proto-feminist masterpiece, a profoundly moving documentary about the true cost of immigrant-assimilation, a charming remembrance of Yiddish-American dialect. It reads as fresh and possibly as scandalously as it did in 1925.

Most surprisingly, however, among its many surprises the book is also a charter for men's liberation long before the idea became a ‘thing’ in today's culture. Bread givers are husbands. Bread giv
Mar 20, 2013 Juan rated it it was amazing
This book was assigned reading as part of a course on immigration policy within the US. The professor recommended it highly and told the class that it was a good read and that we would all find ourselves absorbed in the book once we got into it. Truth was spoken.
Bread Givers is the story of Russian Jew immigrant Sara Smolinsky and her desire and struggle to achieve the pinnacle of what it means to be an American; the opportunity to invest one's self in individual pursuits.
As with any book I re
May 30, 2008 Valerie rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Young Women, College Students
Recommended to Valerie by: History Teacher
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
After being super pissed off through the first 140 pages of the father figure's tyranny, I began to have more patience for Bread Givers.

The most interesting thing was keeping in mind that it was not historical fiction but rather a semi-autobiographical novel published in 1925. So I think the reason that it is widely-read and -taught is that it had been a pioneer in English-language immigrant fiction. Tension between the Old World and the New, between generations--family vs. personal identity, o
Nov 08, 2015 Kaion rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I said it before, but it stands repeating: Coming-of-age stories of young women straining against social inequities are important to tell as long as such inequities exist. Bread Givers places this common narrative in the social context of a Jewish immigrant enclave of early 1900s New York City, and stands slightly above the middle of the pack with the intensity with which Anzia Yezierska imbues the novel.

It's said to be heavily autobiographical, and that's easy to believe. There's a palpable hun
Bread Givers, by Anzia Yezierska is a compelling book, not only in its vivid descriptions of life in New York City during the 1910s-1920s, but also in its look into an Orthodox Jewish family, and its standards. It is a coming of age story, of the youngest of four daughters, told through her narration.

The familial patriarch is Rabbi Smolinksy, and his wife is Shenah, who is in awe of him, despite her nagging manner. His interactions, decisions and doctrine influence his daughters, Fania, Bessie,
Yinglin Chen
Mar 11, 2012 Yinglin Chen rated it really liked it
Shelves: freshman-year
Sara Smolinsky, lives a hard life. No one in their family, can find a good-paying job in the family. With a household of 5, and having a small amount of wages being used for the family, Sara strives to make some money for her family. Her father however, is studying the "Torah" and is not looking for work at all. Every single day, he sits at home in his own private room reading the bible. Having to live in a poor family and a father that doesn't work due to his "learning", she decides to live her ...more
Nov 08, 2015 Sharyn rated it really liked it
It is important to note that this is not historical fiction, this book was written in 1925 and is semi autobiographical. This is the real life immigrant story, and quite amazing to me. Sara will not give in to the strictures of her tyrannical Orthodox father and goes out on her own, almost unheard of in those years. She gets an education and goes to college!! This is not a spoiler, as the impact of the book is the life of these immigrants, the unbelievable crushing poverty and ignorance! What I ...more
Jun 19, 2011 Pamela rated it it was amazing
Remarkable book. The style is often melodramatic--and yet the emotions are so thoroughly felt and convincing that the melodrama is transcended. The narrative seems to be written in a naive Yiddish-inflected English... yet that inflection drops imperceptibly away as Sara, the protagonist, educates herself out of the impoverished Jewish Lower East Side life of her early years, goes to college, and becomes a teacher. Each of her sisters, by contrast, becomes trapped by marriage (even the one who ma ...more
Aymen Alramadhan
Jan 22, 2016 Aymen Alramadhan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bought
A story of culture and poverty struggle of an extremly poor, highly religious immigrant family merging into the new culture of the new world : the America.

The story took place in 1890s when the Jewish family migrated from Russian Poland to The America with dreams of quick wealth and fortune.

Then a cultural war emerge between the conservative, eastern-way of thinking father with a daughter that dreams of going to college at a time where colleges were thought to be only for men and women shouldn
Jessica Prescott
Mar 19, 2016 Jessica Prescott rated it really liked it
Semi-autobiographical work by a Jewish-American female author, Anzia Yezierska. It's a great book, although quite sad in parts . . . but the ending is beautiful, and well worth all the struggle of the earlier chapters. (I often find myself thinking about it, in fact, even though it's been a good many months since I finished it.) I could really identify with Sara's struggle to get an education and become a teacher, because that's what I want to do myself (although of course I haven't had to work ...more
Aug 09, 2008 Jacque rated it really liked it
This book, about a Jewish girl raised in the tenements on the lower east side of Manhattan in the 20's, was written by a woman who had herself been raised in the tenements and was published in 1925. I loved the feeling that this was not a well-researched book, it was written as the author had lived it. And while it may suffer from the embellishment and sentimentality of literature from it's time, I think that only adds to it's authenticity. I really loved it.
Aug 17, 2013 Ellie rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, literary
I found the prose style difficult to get into but the book was well worth the effort! A fascinating portrayal of a Jewish daughter's struggle to find herself in the chaotic world of the 1920's where the much-vaunted wealth of the ruling classes did not reach that of the struggling working class, where women's rights were hardly recognized amongst the poor and the immigrant, and where patriarchy and religious oppression were powerful forces.
May 24, 2011 Ashley rated it really liked it
I love books about immigrants during the early 20th century. The clash of cultures is fascinating. It's nearly impossible to comprehend a father sending his kids out to work and bring home every penny to him, while he sits at home reading his religious books. He then berates his entire family on a regular basis telling them how lucky they are for having such a devout father. It's infuriating, but of course one has to understand the behavior within the context of the religion and time period.
Jul 14, 2013 Becky rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book. Really. I felt like I was reading a biography and a very believable one of a Jewish immigrant family and how each member adapted or failed to adapt to their new country. Also, how past habits and thoughts hindered success of some. I was fully immersed in this book. A great read.
Geek Lee
Aug 10, 2014 Geek Lee rated it really liked it
what an unexpected book. at first it seemed as though this would be a dull read but it was very entertaining. the style and tone is so different and helps the reader remember the setting. while this is an old book, some of the themes are sadly still relevant, especially the struggle for gender equality.
Dec 09, 2015 Renata rated it really liked it
I read this book more than ten years ago when my son had to read it for a history class. He enjoyed it greatly and suggested I read it, too. We had many good conversations about it and that makes me treasure it even more.
Joseph Stieb
Aug 28, 2014 Joseph Stieb rated it really liked it
In Better Angels of our Nature, Stephen Pinker describes literature as a "tool for empathy." Few books emphasize this point as well as Bread Givers. Yezierksa puts you in the shoes of a poor Jewish immigrant girl growing up in New York City under the tyrannical reign of her father. I'd love to use a number of inappropriate words to describe the father, but I'll stick to ones I feel comfortable saying on goodreads: hypocritical, fundamentalist, narcissistic, impractical, terrible with money, lazy ...more
Jasmine Guo
Apr 02, 2013 Jasmine Guo rated it really liked it
The Long Way to Independence: A Book Review of Bread Givers

Anzia Yezierska ISBN:0892552905

Wanting independence and freedom is everyone's wish. Everyone wants to live their own life without anyone controlling it. However, it is not that way for Sara Smolinsky. With her controlling and old world like father, Sara struggles to gain independence. Holding all her anger in as she watches each one of her sister fall into the traps of their father, Sara plans to make a stop. She
Sep 23, 2015 nicole rated it really liked it
This is a very poignant story about a father stuck in his old habits and ways while his child is trying to adapt to the new. At times, i truly wanted to understand the father. He came to a new settlement with intangible ideals about this great new America, but realized all too quickly, how short lived his hopes were. So what is he to do? He turns to what he knows best, religion. Time and again we see father fail with his religious antics, simultaneously tearing the family apart, and i could sens ...more
Heather Hughes
Mar 17, 2016 Heather Hughes rated it really liked it
This book was assigned in my English 232 class as part of our reading list for the Spring semester.

Nobody looks forward to reading books required for college.

However, I was surprised to find that I couldn't put this book down (except to sleep). There are only two other books, that I had to read for school, that I actually liked and I'm proud to say that this book has joined the list.

I was rooting for the sisters the entire time while hating Reb's guts so much. I hated how controlling he was and
This was written in 1925 so a reminder that feminism as analysis of the suppression of women (as distinct from the struggle for the vote) didn't just start in the 1960s and 1970s.

I found this on my bookshelf with no recollection of when or where I bought it and whether it was a recommendation or just something that caught my eye.

The first half of the story takes place when the main character, Sarah Smolinsky, is still a child or in her teens, and describes the control that her father had over h
Sep 01, 2014 Patricia rated it really liked it
If you want to FEEL how a protagonist feels in a story, then this is a story for you. If you can read about the sad lives of the Smolinsky women--at the hand of a selfish "holy man" who deserves a BAD father of the year award every year--without feeling enraged, sad, sympathetic, and wanting to go back in time and strangle a few people (men), well...I can't imagine you can. It's an engaging read, not a happy jaunt but educational in its historic telling of New York in the 1920s through the eyes ...more
Jan 30, 2011 Emily added it
Shelves: read-in-2011

If you are American, and probably even if you are not, you have heard this story before: determined immigrant leaves the Old World behind to seek their fortune in the New; working their way out of a life of crushing poverty, they encounter the prejudices of those better-established than they are, and struggle to find a balance between honoring the traditions of their family while at the same time becoming acculturated to their new, adopted country. Anzia Yezierska's The Bread Givers presents thi
Feb 05, 2015 Preston rated it did not like it
Wow, back at it again. As i was reviewing the Secret Garden as the worst literary work our world has had the displeasure of encountering, I remembered Bread Givers. O' Bread Givers...why? Why? Why in all of god's heavenly earth does this book exist? I cringe at the fact that the average rating for this book is 4 stars.

Just to give a brief plot summary of this book (and yes unlike Secret Garden i actually finished this one) there's a Jewish girl who complains how bad her father is. The father is
John Smith
Mar 20, 2013 John Smith rated it it was amazing
This book was assigned reading as part of a course on immigration policy within the US. The professor recommended it highly and told the class that it was a good read and that we would all find ourselves absorbed in the book once we got into it. Truth was spoken.
Bread Givers is the story of Russian Jew immigrant Sara Smolinsky and her desire and struggle to achieve the pinnacle of what it means to be an American; the opportunity to invest one's self in individual pursuits.
As with any book I re
James Pullman
Feb 17, 2012 James Pullman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: drama, modernism
(From a posting for a class)

Breadgivers tells the tale of Sara Smolinsky trying to find her place in the world, similar to how Jim and Antonia must find their place in the world as in My Antonia. Sara doesn't want to be married off, and doesn't want to give all her wages to her strict Jewish father. She views his way of life as the old way, and knows there is something more out there for her. He demands that she serve him, and yet she grows tired of his demands. He uses his religion to try to ma
Ariel Marie
Jul 04, 2012 Ariel Marie rated it it was amazing
"Wow." That was how I felt after I first finished this novel. I regret selling the book after I bought it for one of my classes. It was the first time I read a book in a long time about immigration. The novel follows the life of a Jewish girl who comes to America. She lives in New York City and struggles with her faith.

Most novels that cover the loss of faith focus on tragic loss. Meanwhile, Sara is unsure about her faith due to tradition. At the start of the book, Sara is only ten years old and
Anzia Yezierska’s historical-fictional account of Sara Smolinsky’s fierce determination to assert her newfound identity as an American girl is riveting in its background detail of what it means to be a first-generation immigrant. By the account of her daughter, Ms. Yezierska was incapable of telling the truth so this isn’t exactly an autobiography thinly disguised as fiction. But the period detail rendered in her searing prose gives a richly textured feel to the story. Sara Smolinsky must strive ...more
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500 Great Books B...: Bread Givers - Anzia Yezierska 2 19 Nov 08, 2015 01:34PM  
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Date of Birth: 1885
Date of Death: 1970

Anzia Yezierska, the youngest of nine children, was born into poverty circa 1885 in Russian Poland. Her family immigrated to the Lower East Side of Manhattan around 1892. Immigration officials used the oldest child's name, Mayer, as the last name of the family and switched Anzia's name to Harriet, and so she became Hattie Mayer. After attending elementary scho
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“I felt I could turn the earth upside down with my littlest finger. I wanted to dance, to fly in the air and kiss the sun and stars with my singing heart. I, alone with myself, was enjoying myself for the first time as with grandest company.” 1 likes
“A poor man is a living dead one.” 0 likes
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