Although a novel, I felt as if I were a part of the entire experience, and from the first page until the last page, I was eager to continue reading. I wanted to learn more about the hardships, struggles, social ideals and events, the economic situation and the general daily life of the immigrant. I wanted to inhale and exhale the situations they found themselves confronting.
It wasn’t an easy life for the Gordons, and the idealistic dream of what America would be like, quickly turned to disillusion on many levels. Jews and people of other cultures were almost instantly thrown into harsh struggles and turmoil, so to speak. The Jewish traditions of the shtetl meant very little in a world where money counted for everything in order to survive.
Although the Gordon family seemingly had it better in America, their emotions conflicted with that theory. Identity and assimilation were major issues for this family, they were typical immigrant family trying to fit into the scheme of things in a new land.
The Gordon’s adjustment was made a bit easier through the fact that “tatte” or the father of the household had emigrated first. The rest of them followed later on, but they at least had him to instruct them as to the social aspects of their new surroundings. Some of what he dictated did not sit well with “mamme” Gordon or with his sons and daughters, for differing reasons. The family unit was torn between the here and now, and the former life they had. The family dynamics led to disagreement and discord.
Old religious traditions, especially Orthodox practices, went by the wayside with “tatte” and with the oldest son. They no longer practiced the strict traditions that they had in the old country. They tried to impress upon the rest of the family that in order to survive and have enough for rent, food and other items of necessity they would all need to do their share and even work on the Sabbath. And, within that framework, they were also paying off the huge debt that was contracted for their emigration. Work, work, and more work, after all this is America. This theory did not go over well, especially with the three females, who were adamant about continuing on with their religious practices and traditions, and continue as they had before emigrating.
The strength the Gordon women displayed was incredible. Their will to keep tradition, yet move forward was inspiring. Their devotion to family and Jewish tradition was admirable.
From clothes to food, laundry and household temperatures, religion to working on the Sabbath, from the sweat shops to the union protests, This is America! is an incredible reading experience.
Strikes against workplaces and employers raged through the city, and the country, for that matter. Unions were formed and shops became “closed”. If one wanted to work during a strike, they had to cross picket lines. The women either took on simple hand work they could do at home, or worked odd jobs Sunday through Friday afternoon, literally changing jobs almost every week. Times were difficult and jobs seemed to be a dime a dozen, and individuals were replaceable with the bat of an eyelash. The times bore the economic struggles and the industrial struggles for better work conditions.
This was America in the early part of the 20th century. This was the Gordon family’s Jewish immigrant experience in America. Meyer’s writing is masterful, and story telling at its finest.
The novel is historically factual, and is an important piece of Literature, in my opinion. The author fills all of the senses with beautiful prose. I highly recommend This is America! to everyone. It is a book not to be missed. Henye Meyer has brought the past and the immigrant experience to the forefront, in every aspect.
May 17, 2012 – 25 Iyyar, 5772
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