The masterful Yiddish-American writer Lamed Shapiro (1878 – 1948) has for too long been overlooked. Now, with the publication of The Cross and Other Jewish Stories, he comes into his own.
The book is divided into three sections. The first, “Pogram Tales,” presents the brutal, sexualized mob violence of the pogroms in stunning detail, reflecting Shapiro’s own Ukranian childhood experiences.
The seven stories of “The Old World” are set in the shtetl. Not the charming, folkloric hamlet of popular imagination, but a hopeless, debilitated relic. In “Eating Days,” misery ignites the violence that flares between home and school. “The Rebbe and the Rebbetsin” presents a bleak, loving portrait of a childless husband and wife.
The last segment of the book, “The New World,” begins with the lyrical “At Sea.” On a trans-Atlantic voyage to America, a young immigrant reflects on the perils of his journey, the unfathomable black sea, the hazards of assimilation. The two final stories, “The Chair” and “New Yorkish,” are set in New York. The struggles of alienated refugees with the overwhelming dislocations of their lives come alive through Lamed Shapiro’s powerful blend of lyricism with precise, artistically disciplined language.