Thursday, 29 October 2009

A New World

Hello...sorry, it's been too long. Finished Call It Sleep by Henry Roth last week, but have been caught up in the whirlwind of moving/settling in/starting a new life.

Anyway...I had said in my previous post that I had very much been looking forward to reading this novel, and it didn't disappoint.

Told in two languages (although both are English), the story of David and his immigrant family is powerful, heartbreaking and profoundly moving. I have always had a bit of a fascination with New York City history and how the millions of immigrants who came to the city made their way in such an unfamiliar and intense environment.

David's street language (English) is rough and coarse, but the language he speaks at home (Yiddish, translated into English for the reader) is beautiful and elegant. What happens in his home is a different world to what happens on the street, but violence rears its ugly head in both.

The reader not only gets David's experience of life in New York at the turn of the century, but also his parents' individual experiences. His angry father and loving mother both have their reasons for secrecy, but David is able to piece together their sad history and their reasons for coming to America. The struggles that both face are emblematic of the struggle that most immigrants faced.

Roth's voice in this novel is sympathetic, of course, and his prose invites the reader to feel the same sympathy without pity. A strained and fractured family experience in the wider context of harsh immigrant life: brilliant.

Next up: Great Apes by Will Self.

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