Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska, a story of a young woman's fight for independence in a world of poor Orthodox Jewish immigrants in the early 20th century, is our first read of the new year for The Wolves, my much-loved online book group. I say much-loved because I really mean it. Not because our choice this month did not really work for me, and I feel the need to kiss up a little.
So here is the short of it. I cruised through this book quickly. It is not challenging. A fairly innocuous read with moments of mild irritation with the writing. I genuinely liked the spunkiness of the narrator, Sara, as she tries to escape a home run of American marginalization in the early parts of the 20th century - immigrant, poor, Jewish, female. I accepted the oft-repeated invitation to hate her tyrannical non-working but god-loving father. Felt for the other women of the book - for the most part. But ultimately could not get beyond the blunt force of the cries for sympathy. I felt that the novel was an excellent start to a conversation about the immigrant experience of the time, especially for women, but that it failed to dig deeply enough into these issues. It dropped topics as quickly as it picked them up. It is a collection of loose threads. Perhaps more suitable for younger readers in middle and high school where it is often read.
Many parts of the read are enjoyable. And I did feel a little guilty about my annoyance with the language. English is not the first language of the narrator, and she struggles to escape the Yiddish inflections and turns of phrase in her speech and writing. Her "dramas" often appear in line with other cultural expressions in her Lower East Side neighborhood that she writes about in the novel. But there is nothing subtle about this book, and its over-the-top ranting, its repetitions ultimately did not leave me with an inclination to make exceptions for the writing as a necessity of authenticity. It just lacked the depth required to add the dimension I wished for from the material.