Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska: A Book Review

6a00e5535ff83b88330148c8234d63970cEven up to this day, in the Philippines, fathers are still considered as the head of the family. No matter what happens, he is the one who decides against anything concerning familial problems. It is neither the mother nor the eldest child. It is just him none other than anyone else in the family. There are some cases that a father figure tends to be authoritarian and dictatorial. No matter what you opine of is not acceptable for him. Your opinions and suggestions will just go in the ear and out the other. He imposes draconian rules whether you like them or not. So all you have to do is shut your mouth and live with intestinal fortitude. Otherwise, he will hurl abuse at you, or if you are a son, he will make a man of you by punching you in the chest or stomach. The classic one? He will redden your ass with his flagellant belt. If you happen to be a girl, he will turn your face black and blue with his iron palm. Do I sound  exaggerated? Take it for granted if you are in the same boat. I guess you understand what I am talking about. If you remonstrate with me, well, luckily, you never have this kind of father. Neither do I.

As a social science student, I have learned that the common reasons why a man is  perceived to be the head of the house are based on distorted culture molded by ancient teachings particularly such as of Confucianism and Christianity. Men are superior to women. Men are biologically stronger than women. So with these patterns of learned ideas, we learn that we, I mean you , should pay homage to us men. Bravo! Thanks to those misleading bodies of teachings! We are always put on the pedestal. Consequently, we peoples in the world tend to be incorrigible. No wonder there is no world peace. (charot!)

The good thing is we are creatures of human expression. We can express our disappointment in human ignorance through literature. And this is what Anzia Yezierska must have intended; she wrote Bread Giver that deals with the clash between the Old World and the New World. The consequence? A masterpiece everyone deep-seated should read.

Anzia Yezierska was a Jew immigrant in New York in the 1900’s. She may have been one of those immigrants, along with her family, escaped the pogrom in Russia and was stopped at  Ellis island from entering the US  when the American President was still in the air whether it should adopt the immigrants or not. (I just read this information from Nicholson Baker’s book Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization.)One thing I am cocksure about Yezierska: As an immigrant, she went through the pressures of American dream in New York where she and her family ventured in to survive. In her novel, Bread Givers, although it was said to have been drawn deep inspiration from her immigrant experience, she wrote a story dealing with what kind of culture she may have grown up with- her father’s patriarchal authority, struggles with feminine independence, and grinding poverty. So this novel will make you tear your hair and your toes curl.

The only thing you might notice in the book is Yezierska’s writing styles. The sequence of the stories is not similar to other surreal books you love to bury yourself in. Every scene is so fast that you will end up in a hanging position as if you want to read more at full length. Probably, you are used to much description.  Nonetheless, for me, it is not that a big deal.

Yezierska’s setting begins with endless scenes crawling with miseries which are so annoying, frustrating, soporific, and heart-breaking that I carp at her intention. So, amidst of reading it, I predict that the ending of the story could be like a-happily-ever-after denouement. However, as the story goes deeper, the more foolishly miserable the story becomes until I come to the point that it might be a disappointing story after all. In the end, the story turns out to be more interesting because of the main character‘s determination to surpass all the struggles. On the other hand, I did not like the way Yezierska wrote the sequence of the events: fast and slapdash.

The hallmark of this book is its quotable and witty dialogues. You can be serious about the philosophical dialogues among the characters, but you will end up finding them funny. However, be ready for the character of Mr. Reb Smilonsky. You might go mad at him  that you might feel like  engaging him in a debate over  religion and life. As a Jew, he is always preaching to his children( Masha, Bessie, Fania, and Sarah, the narrator)  the teachings of the Old Torah especially the statement that , “ Women can’t go to heaven without men.” Or “ Only through a man can a woman an existence.” In other words, he teaches the traditional Jewish culture that men are superior to women. So there are times that I put  this book down for a moment gnashing my teeth as though I can no longer stand listening to a character, a byword for hypocrisy, megalomania, and grandeur delusion.

Another highlight of the book is the grammar structures of the sentences. Anzia Yezierska’s English must be old –fashioned since she was a Jew. I cringe at the sentences, but they convey substantial tones and emotions. I am predisposed to anger, annoyance, and empathy, so I am no bothered at them at all. Every scene  tends to carry  me away.

Most importantly, I really liked the book -despite that it may not be among the crème de la crème of critically acclaimed novels  – because  it is scattered with different themes: hypocrisy, wrong culture, feminism, Americanism, human Independence, and determination.

Bread Givers is not the only one I have read dealing with immigrant life in America. My heart broke when I first read The Jungle  by Upton Sinclair. I was also astounded at The Assistant by Bernard Malamud  which the TIME magazine included in its list for 100 Best Novels of All Time since 1924.Last year. I ranked My Ántonia by Willa Cather first in my top ten favorite books in 2015. For non-fiction, I read Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory which narrates his education life in the US as a gringo and the other one, ‘Tis by Frank McCourt  on his  life adventure  in America. For local books, I read Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart: A Personal History  and Bulosan: An Introduction With Selections .All  of these  books bear the same concept: American dream. No wonder reading just the likes of them have a significance impact   upon readers like me.

Next time , I will read The Big Sleep  by Raymond Chandler. Hooray!

Rating: 4/ 5 stars ( I really liked it.)

 

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