Silbert, Layle. “Yudl: And Other Stories”, Seven Stories Press, 2013.
And Now For Something New
A delightful surprise came in the mail a few days ago—Layle Silbert’s new novella and short story collection written by a voice that has been quieted way too soon. Silbert died in 2003 making these stories part of her legacy.
Yudl is middle-aged and the editor of the very left-wing newspaper, “The Yiddish Courier”. In order to insure that they will always have an income, Yudl and his wife decide to own rental property. They buy a lot and hire Mason, someone they know, to be in charge of the construction of an apartment building on it. When the construction is delayed, Yudl and wife find themselves having no place to live and they are forced to move in with Mason and his family until all is built. Silbert’s wonderful and dry wit keeps the story fascinating as it explores the themes of gender, Zionism, and the immigrant experience in the US. The setting is Chicago in the 1920s and we sense the effect the Sacco and Vanzetti had on immigrant communities. We see everything through the eyes of Ellen, Yudl’s and Ryah’s daughter who must deal with their recollections of life in the old country and the strangeness that her parents feel here in America. I am also a first generation American so what I read really spoke to me. Ellen soon realizes that she has the job of leading her parents through American life. America becomes both close and far-off as the characters learn to deal with their new home. The stories span the life of Ellen from childhood to college and adulthood and we read of Ellen becoming a mature woman who often feels like a stranger in the world that is not yet fully hers.
The early immigration of Jews to America is almost forgotten now but there was a time when Yiddish/American culture was an important patch in the quilt we know as America. What is left is the wonderful Yiddish storytelling tradition that is also now being somewhat forgotten. The American dream here is depicted as both rewarding and fearful and “the promise of freedom and prosperity is accompanied by anxiety, guilt and regret.”
We live in a time when immigration issues have become very important so we really are very lucky to have a book that looks at it with humor and sensitivity. Although the characters are Jewish immigrants, they actually could be from any ethnic group. I understand that several of the stories were chosen for this anthology while the author was on her deathbed making them even more special. Here we see the importance of family, femininity and life and death.