A For­got­ten Land: Grow­ing Up In The Jew­ish Pale, Based on the Rec­ol­lec­tions of Pearl Unikow Cooper

Lisa Coop­er
  • Review
By – April 26, 2013

When I was a teenag­er, a com­i­cal song we used to sing was I’m My Own Grand­ma.” In this book the author pre­tends to be her own grand­ma” but the sto­ry isn’t fun­ny. She assumes the per­son of her grand­moth­er and tells her sto­ries, which were orig­i­nal­ly relat­ed in Yid­dish to the author’s father and, years lat­er, trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish. From its ini­tial descrip­tion of a sim­ple and hap­py life in their lit­tle Russ­ian vil­lage, it morphs into a saga of cru­el­ty per­pe­trat­ed on a pro­duc­tive, inno­cent peo­ple. The Jews of Rus­sia were forced by the Empress, Cather­ine the Great, to reside with­in the Russ­ian Pale.” They lived a mod­est and often poor life, but it was a life. Before long, waves of polit­i­cal unrest swept Rus­sia, and the author, who has tak­en on the per­son­al­i­ty of her grand­moth­er, makes this his­to­ry her own. The sto­ry she weaves is one of war, pogroms, famine, dis­ease — of being hap­less vic­tims to polit­i­cal wars and reli­gious hatred, per­se­cut­ed by suc­ceed­ing Russ­ian polit­i­cal groups. It is also a sto­ry of love, of sim­ple plea­sures, of cus­toms, and fam­i­ly. It seduces the read­er into being one of the char­ac­ters in the book, not a pas­sive read­er, and before long the read­er wor­ries and hopes and prays just like the rest of the fam­i­ly and gives thanks when they reach the safe­ty of Canada.

Mar­cia W. Pos­ner, Ph.D., of the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty, is the library and pro­gram direc­tor. An author and play­wright her­self, she loves review­ing for JBW and read­ing all the oth­er reviews and arti­cles in this mar­velous periodical.

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