The Jewish Eye
Salome of the Tenements
Salome of the Tenements
By Anzia Yezierska
University of Illinois Press: 1996
Reviewed by Anna Dogole - October 8, 2007
Salome of the Tenements is a gripping portrait of life in the New York's Lower East Side in the early 1900's. Written by Anzia Yezierska, this book is semi-autobiographical, as Yezierska drew heavily from her own life and experiences when crafting this story. The book follows the adventures of Sonya Vrunsky, a smart and beautiful young Jewish woman who works for the Ghetto News, a Yiddish newspaper.
When Vrunsky is assigned to interview John Manning, a wealthy philanthropist, she sees her opportunity to leave her poverty ridden life and move up in the world - by marrying this Anglo-Saxon saint. The story follows Vrunsky as she tries to win Manning over to her way of thinking.
Yezierska was born in Russia around 1885, and she later immigrated to the United States with her family, settling in New York City where she got to experience the horrors of sweatshop and tenement life first hand as well as the beneficial effects of the Settlement House and Labor Movements. She translated these experiences into a number of books including Hungry Hearts, Children of Loneliness, Bread Givers, Arrogant Beggar, All I Could Never Be, and in her biography Red Ribbon on a White Horse: My Story.
Salome of the Tenements is a classic, albeit often overlooked Jewish-American literary classic. The book was first published in 1923, and it was made into a silent film in 1925. This is a story that juxtaposes Vrunsky's strong Jewish heritage with a desire to integrate into American society, and to pull herself out of the poverty that she feels herself mired in. Her romance with Manning (a non-Jew) is full of angst, as she is pulled between the two worlds she inhabits.
A fascinating work of literature, Salome of the Tenements not only offers readers an entertaining story full of detailed and vivid characters, and which has an unexpected ending, but it also offers readers an eyewitness glimpse into Jewish immigrant life on the Lower East Side, and in particular, the life of Jewish women during this pivotal period.
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