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Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska
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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 read through the foreword and introduction, written by Alice Kessler-Harris, and she tells of how she discovered Yezierska when she was a grad student and became entranced by her. I was intrigued by her passion for the text and encouraged further to read (I also had a deadline, the test was in one day and I hadn't started the book). Kessler-Harris uses the adjective "powerful" to describe the writing style, and it was appropriate. I became so engrossed in the book that I finished in one day (not a huge feat, the book is only 297 pages).

After the first chapter I was hooked. I felt the hunger of her family as they scrounged for food and warmth, the shame of being impoverished, and the singular hope of Sara's brave spirit to live free from the shackles of oppressive patriarchy. I wanted to throttle her sisters and I found Yezierska's adjective of "dumb" accurate to describe the broken, spiritless, acquiescence of her sisters and mother. In our in class discussion the professor mentioned the "necessary cooperation of women for any paternalism to exist" and I hoped silently that at least a few of the women in the classroom fully understood the comment. Line after line I found myself silently railing against the self entitled patriarch, and while I understand that much of his faults were enabled by social constructs I could not completely sympathize with his position. I was reminded of my own grandfather who had as much fault in his own death as the diabetes and strokes that were listed on his death certificate, the same sense of imperial entitlement. I was also reminded of him when Sara comes home from college to find that her mother's feet have rotted away from gangrene, and her refusal to have them removed to save her life. I had to take a few moments to reflect on my own past. I celebrated her Sara's strength of conviction to continue with her studies in the face of hunger, isolation, and discouragement. I felt like I was beside her in her dingy basement room covered in filth and lit by candle. I celebrated when she sees through the guise of the predatory suitor, I laugh knowingly as she falls for improbable crushes and I enjoy her triumphant completion of college and return to New York as a teacher. Her resolution with her father and stepmother left me a bit confused, perhaps I am a bit too hard. Then again I see much of my own family in the enabled, manipulative, and yet dependent father. So many emotions and so much commentary on social constructs.
The fact that this book was written in the 1920's and that it was not immediately recognized as a masterpiece of literary work, says much about American society in the turn of the twentieth century. Perhaps it is my American self that cries out for Sara to come among us and take her place as one of the brave and free. I hear her desire to stretch her wings to their greatest span and to live without imposed restraints of social obligation, because that is what it means to be free to live as you will. Understanding that celebration of the self is a celebration of life. Anzia Yezierska, I take my hat off to you. Well done madam, well done.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
March 18, 2013 – Finished Reading
March 20, 2013 – Shelved

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