The seven short stories in this collection, garnered from the family remembrances of a number of Slotkin’s acquaintances, concern that oft-covered trope: the Jewish experience in America, newly arrived from the horrors of Eastern Europe. Slotkin captures the voice like no one I’ve ever read before; the multiple voices, in fact. Those who went to gymnasium in the old country and cling to high culture as to a life raft as well as those who lived hand-to-mouth, here and there. Usually, in such tales, the pogroms are merely referred to: “They were horrible. May you never see such times.” Or they can be given the equal gloss: “We survived and are now all normal.” Which can give the lie to the reputed horrors. The penultimate story gives us both a description of an attack and of the lives that must go on afterward. To call them normal and saved does them a disservice. The story of “Uncle Max and Cousin Yossi” is marred only by too many characters, characters we cannot and should not remember, and characters of the normal variety, everyone cramming into the family photo.
The final story, “Greenhorn Nation: A History in Jokes,” speaks to the immigrant, the greenhorn in all of us, even those who came in earlier waves. I recommend this book, even to those who think you’ve read enough in the genre.