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The Brothers Ashkenazi

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  833 ratings  ·  107 reviews
With a large cast of characters, this is a social novel, a family saga set against the rise of capitalism and of a Jewish bourgeoisie in Lodz. It tells the story, through an interwoven plot, of the clash between old traditions and growing desires.
Paperback, 448 pages
Published December 1st 1993 by Penguin Classics (first published 1936)
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Lorenzo Berardi
There once was a writer I ranked among the best ones I've ever read.
That author bore the surname of Singer and won a Nobel Prize in Literature back in 1978.

Even though he was born in Poland and spent most of his life in the US, Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote in Yiddish, his mother tongue. He died at the impressive age of 88 and gained all the honours and the fame he deserved.
For I.B. Singer wrote in a truly magnificent way.

Now, our Isaac Bashevis had an elder brother - Israel Joshua - who was
Oct 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
Here follows a concise summation why I could only give two stars:
When I read a book of historical fiction I want to be drawn in by the fictitious characters and learn history at the same time. In this book history is vaguely presented; you will recognize the historical events if you already know them. Dates are rarely given. The story is drawn around a huge cast of fictitious characters. It would have been better if the author had given more depth to just a select few. Finally, too much is told
Mar 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Other Press has reissued Israel Joshua's long out of print
The Brothers Ashkenazi. This 427 page (Yea!) novel was first published in 1937 in Yiddish. This edition is a reprint of the 1980 English translation by Singer's son Joseph. I first heard of this masterpiece on the wonderfully interesting blog Neglected Books.

Singer gave us a broad view in Brothers. This is a family saga but it is also a saga of the economics, history and the culture of the Jewish community in Lodz, Poland. There is a
Jun 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Israel Joshua Singer is Isaac Baschevis's older brother. His book The Brothers Ashkenazi (1936) blew me away. Written in Yiddish about the Jews of Łódź, Poland, it reads to me like a working out of demons -- a deep and knowledgeable, very Marxist examination of capitalism and justice, yet the most chilling of conclusions about the power of hate.

All of these things find an equally chilling physical manifestion in the ghetto of Podgórze and the remains of Płaszów Camp.

The Brothers Ashkenazi
Jamie Bradway
Oct 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent companion to the World War One readings I've been doing for the past several weeks, a subject pretty unknown to me.

The Brothers Ashkenazi follows the lives of twin brothers in Lodz, Poland from the latter 1800's to just past the first world war. Max, the striver and schemer, works hard to accumulate great wealth and become 'King of Lodz'. His younger, handsomer, more charming brother lucks into equal levels of success.

The rise and fall of the family correlates with the
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks, jewish, russia
Indeed many characters in this book, none of whom were very endearing. Overall an interesting depiction of the time. The foreword (which came at the end of the audiobook) was elucidating setting out the relationship between Israel J Singer with his younger brother Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Jan 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good if you like reading about pogroms.

Covers the development of Lodz from when it was a little village, through its rise as a centre of textile manufacturing through to its decline in the 1920s. That makes it sound really boring.... It's not a boring book, though, not so much because the author is good at making the characters interesting as because you'd have to be a really bad author to make the russian revolution fail to grab your attention.

This is my first time reading anything by this
Oct 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
At high school I had a classmate who stated that with literature you can learn history, philosophy, sociology, psychology and any other social science much better than any manual. At that time I totally disagreed with this thought: I was all taken with my historical essays and did not leave much room for literature: history was taught in books that taught history. Then, in my life, the Russian writers came in, and I've been able to review my ideas a bit and I understood, though late, that ...more
Lewis Weinstein
This was more of an overview of history than a novel, which served my research purposes well but left me flat as a reader of historical fiction. I never got involved in the lives of the protagonists, never had feelings about any of the characters. I did learn quite a bit about the Polish Jewish experience in the late 19th century during the explosive growth of manufacturing and capitalism . The story continues into the early 20th century, but I had the feeling the later chapters were just sort ...more
Noah Enelow
Oct 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a brilliant novel, and I think just about everyone should read it. As a second- and third-generation Jewish American, I have just not found a single other work that compares to this one in talking about what the "Old Country" must have been really like. No nostalgia for village life here! And the language here is refreshingly straightforward, like cold water in your face. Refreshing, stinging cold water that makes you thankful that someone is willing to be as brutally honest as I.J. ...more
Luca Rotondo
Mar 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Wow, that was a great ride Israel! It took me a bit longer than I thought to finish it, I would probably say that the book is 50/100 pages longer than needed..However I was taken back to the Industrial Lodz with Singer's neat descriptions and I loved the book and the Ashkenazi brothers. People describe this as Singer's masterpiece? Maybe it is, however I personally enjoyed "The Family Karnovsky" just a bit more. Anyhow, great read!
Joel Miller
Aug 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Books like this are easily confined to an ethnic ghetto. But this is a truly masterful novel in the best 19th and early 20th century traditions. In my opinion it is right up there with Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks or Dostoyevsky for that matter.
Jun 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
The characters are interesting, but you never grow overly attached. They are slightly hollow, and I find them to be used more often to push forward the historical events surrounding them, than to be the main vehicle of the story. What I truly enjoyed of the story that I enjoyed was the rich detail the author put into a period of time that isn't commonly written about. I learned a great deal about Poland and the pre-WWII treatment/life of Jews.
Of the 3/4th that I read, I enjoyed. Even though I love long novels & learned a lot about Lodz life at the turn of the century, the spark of attraction was not there. A solid work, but one that just didn't meet me in the right time & place in my life. I'm sure I'll pick it up again a few months down the road.
Jun 21, 2015 added it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 28, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audio, unfinished
I read about half of the book and just couldn't get into it.
Daniel Frank
Jan 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
this is the best book I've ever read.
Aug 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I imagine it's rough to be an immensely talented novelist and to be remembered by history as your brother's older sibling.
The Brothers Ashkenazi is about two brilliant brothers, but isn't a sort of winking story of the Singers themselves. It's billed as "a Russian novel in Yiddish," and that's about right: a sweeping tale of one town in history, told through the story of brothers.
The characters are pretty thin, and only Simcha Meir has much of an internal life. The women don't seem to be given
Robin Kempf
Feb 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Worth reading, but in no way easy. This grand sweeping historical novel is really more focused on the economics and grand social change that affects Poland and Russia from WWI past the Bolshevik revolution than the characters. Only one of the brothers Ashkenazi is truly fleshed out, and various other characters pop in and out of the narrative to different degrees, as the author focuses primarily on Lodz and its industry. Also, this is a man’s world, not to mention, a harsh poverty-stricken, ugly ...more
Peter Landau
Nov 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Social realist novel by the other Singer, who died young. The title seems like a homage to a famous Russian writer, but not that one. This Yiddish story is more Tolstoy with its wide lens. While it stops short of that genius’ work, it still leaves Singer in rarified territory. The story of Orthodox Jewish brothers growing up in turn-of-the-last-century Poland and chasing its modern lures captures a transitional time. My paternal grandfather was born there about the same era and if he didn’t ...more
Reid Heller
Nov 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Here is multi-generational novel of social realism with high standards of artistry populated by 2nd industrial revolution proletariat and industrialists in the city of Lodz. It fully portrays modern ambition and suffering in this Polish factory town and, later, the unremitting horror of post-war life under the new nationalisms and Bolshevik revolution. Chassidic piety and hypocrisy, socialist indignation at the routine hunger and humiliation of working people, the misery of arranged marriages, ...more
Joel Kleehammer
I was really impressed by this book and the quality of both the writing and the storytelling. Israel Joshua Singer, older brother of Isaac Bashevis Singer, was a master artist who wove stories that could grab the reader and transport them to a place and time forgotten.

Following a Jewish family in Poland from the mid-1800's to roughly the 1920's, The Brothers Ashkenazi traces the lives of twin brothers whose paths diverge greatly. You see the cycle of Jewish life and how the lives of Jews carry
The Brothers Ashkenazi is a story of ambition, envy, jealousy, love and hate. It covers topics such as Polish history, Hasidic judaism, jewish culture and mysticism, industrialism, labor unions, uprisings, pogroms, communism, war and revolution, spanning ruffly the years from 1850 to 1920.

Who will be the King of Lodz?

The main character is Simha Meir (Max) Ashkenazi. As opposed to his twin brother Jacob Bunem, Simha Meir is a feeble, wicked and unpopular child, but in school it becomes apparent
Dec 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
This may be the best novel no one has ever heard of. I wasn't sure I would enjoy this book but from chapter one I could not put it down.

It's a good twin/bad twin story with a love triangle set against industrial revolution Poland. The characters are not well fleshed out, but that is made up for by the breathtaking scope of the setting. The city of Lodz is almost the most important character in the story...from pastorial beginnings to unfettered capitalism to the rise of the union movement. Then
Christian Patterson
Oct 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lit
This is a Yiddish novel that is basically about European Jews transitioning into modernity. In that sense, I found this book extremely fresh and intriguing, because this time period was much more complicated for Jews than, say white, Western Europeans. I learned a lot about Jewish culture and really felt like I came away with a lot of new knowledge.

But, unfortunately, since the book is so epic in terms of size, I never got enough time with the characters. In one chapter, two characters may be
I have so many things to say about this book that I'm all tangled up in words and feelings and nothing I'm writing is making sense. So I'll just do bullets instead:

- Epic!
- Didn't know I was missing a book like this
- Amazing portrait of Ashkenazi Jewish life
- Felt like a literary classic, a Jewish one :)
- Complex and very well developed characters (even though I didn't really like any of them)
- A wonderful expose on extremism: religious, economic, ideological, nationalistic...
- A harsh look at
Mar 08, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audible, read-in-2015
I was absolutely delighted with this book for the first three hours (I listened to it). Then the second three hours started, and I thought it sounded rather similar to the first bit. Then I made myself listen to the rest of it and it was the same story told over and over.

Then I started to think, maybe I'm a terrible person. Isn't this what Jewish people probably feel like; endless persecution through the years? That may be so, but I don't want to listen to the same story for 20 hours.

Feb 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Picked this one up thinking that I was getting something written by his brother “Isaac Bashevis Singer”, very glad that I made that mistake because this was astonishing, makes me wonder why this one isn’t known better. A spiralling family saga written in the old tradition with Jewish touches. An astonishing tale of realism taking you through the early 20th century Poland (ends before WWII but lives through WWI), a wonderful morality tale and creates a broad and dazzling portrait. This really ...more
Tara Woolpy
Feb 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very well written romp through Jewish life turn of the century Poland that ends just before WWII. The story chronicles a disfunctional relationship between two brothers who succeed in Lodz. It is very fast paced. At times the narrative seems so distant from the characters that it is hard to connect with, and the light tone often conflicts with very dark subject matter. But it is a really interesting account of Jewish life in a time/place that no longer exists, written by someone who lived ...more
Noemie Taylor
Jun 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A masterpiece. I can't believe I had never heard of Israel Singer before this year. He is basically the equivalent of the Yiddish Zola or Dickens. He describes with an incredible modernity the fate of women and workers, the crumbling of the religious world and the illusions of communism (from a Jewish perspective). The realism with which he describes antisemitism and its possible consequences, four years before World War II, almost has prophetic resonances. An absolute must read.
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Israel Joshua Singer was a Yiddish novelist. He was born Yisruel Yehoyshye Zinger, the son of Pinchas Mendl Zinger, a rabbi and author of rabbinic commentaries, and Basheva Zylberman. He was the brother of Nobel Prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer and novelist Esther Kreitman. His granddaughter is the novelist, Brett Singer.

Singer contributed to the European Yiddish press from 1916. In