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The Provincials: A Personal History of Jews in the South

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The Provincials: A Personal History of Jews in the South

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The Provincials
A Personal History of Jews in the South
By Eli N. Evans
With photographs & a new introduction by the author
The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill (2005)
ISBN: 0-8078-5623-1

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - May 4, 2009

The Provincials: A Personal History of Jews in the South is an engaging memoir of the author's life in the American South, interwoven with a narrative history of Southern Jewry from the arrival of the first Sephardic Jews in 1733, through to the present. The author, Eli N. Evans, was raised in Durham, North Carolina and has written a number of books on Southern Jewry including Judah P. Benjamin - The Jewish Confederate and The Lonely Days Were Sundays: Reflections of a Jewish Southerner.

The meld of traditional history with the author's personal reminiscences gives this book a unique flavor, allowing the reader to absorb an unexpectedly large dose of Jewish history without the drudgery associated with many history books. Evans writing is engaging and his writing style almost lyrical in nature, and he quickly entrances the reader by his account of his own childhood in North Carolina in the 1950's. Along the way he explores what life was like for Jews in the South, from the earliest immigrants onward. He examines how life differed for Jews in small towns and large, and how major events such as the American Civil War, the influx of German-Jews, the lynching of Leo Frank, and the Civil Rights Movement shaped Southern Jewish identity and culture. He also shows how Southern Jews have left an indelible impression on Southern history and culture, and the major contributions that they have made to the South, in a variety of fields from politics to the Arts.

When this book was first published in the early 1970's it heralded a new field of study - that of the Southern Jewish Experience and History. Before the publication of The Provincials there had been little academic interest in the history of Southern Jewry. While this is still not a major field of study, it is still growing, and this new edition of the book, augmented by a new introduction by the author and a collection of his family photos, will introduce this intriguing subject to a new generation of students and readers of every ilk. The Provincials should be required reading in any course dealing with the Jewish - American experience.

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