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