Eka­teri­noslav: One Fam­i­ly’s Pas­sage to Amer­i­ca: A Mem­oir in Verse

Jane Yolen

  • Review
By – December 10, 2012

Jane Yolen’s new work com­bines her tal­ents as a poet with her skill as a sto­ry­teller. In thir­ty-five poems, orga­nized by stages of the jour­ney — shtetl, voy­age, and new life in the Unit­ed States—Eka­teri­naoslav: One Family’s Pas­sage to Amer­i­ca recre­ates the voic­es of the past through a con­scious­ness unique­ly Yolen’s own. Many of the most effec­tive poems are in the first sec­tion, where life in the shtetl is vivid­ly evoked: Here schools are Jew schools, the learning/​hon­ey sweet on the lips of the boys/…but philosophy…takes place on the shtetl streets/…when men/​touched by the cos­mos, find their own words.” The poems, includ­ing the occa­sion­al one in prose, are a mix of sto­ries, descrip­tion, and Yolen’s com­men­tary, and though most are effec­tive, some fall into a lan­guage that doesn’t seem quite the stuff of poet­ry. This is par­tic­u­lar­ly true of the prose poems, though occa­sion­al­ly the oth­er pieces are affect­ed as well: In Amer­i­ca [Lou] needs to curb a nature that lurch­es toward the unruly,” doesn’t fit in a poem that also includes an evoca­tive line that calls the hori­zon at sea a care­ful line drawn under his future.” 

Though not every poem suc­ceeds equal­ly, Eka­teri­noslav is worth read­ing as a state­ment of love for an extend­ed fam­i­ly Yolen has gone to great lengths to dis­cov­er, under­stand, and make real for oth­ers. “‘For­give me,’ I whis­per to my past,” Yolen says. I did not know./I did not under­stand.” With a Calde­cott Medal, a Christo­pher Medal, and a Nation­al Book Award nom­i­na­tion among her accom­plish­ments, Jane Yolen again finds a theme that will res­onate for many: “[We] are now much richer/​than grand­fa­ther ever dreamed of/​and some­how poor­er as well.”

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