Kosher Butcher in NYC, 1933: Kenneth Sherman of Tablet writes: “While often charming and whimsical, One Foot in America deals with the most perplexing aspect of the Jewish American experience—the tension between the Old World and the new. Several poignant scenes center on Sol and his ineffectual father, the Talmudic scholar Chaim Kenner. In Europe, Chaim’s erudition and spirituality were praiseworthy; in America, where immigrants are rapidly moving from believing in monotheism to believing in money, otherworldliness is inconvenient baggage.”
Photo Credit: J. B. Lightman; American Jewish Historical Society
A book review article, by Kenneth Sherman, in Tablet Magazine looks at the forgotten work of Jewish-Polish writer, Yuri Suhl [1908-1986], and his One Foot in America, a novel originally published in 1950. The story is set in the 1920s and ’30s; Suhl himself arrived in America in 1923, settling in Brooklyn, New York.
The book, out of print for decades, has been republished thanks to the efforts of Toronto writer Bill Gladstone, which the Jewish Free Press recounts in a 2011 article. This is a wonderfully descriptive title of the immigrant experience of many Jews, including my father, who immigrated to the United States and Canada before and after the Second World War.
In “Homecoming” (July 13, 2011), Sherman writes:
Henry Roth’s Call it Sleep—a masterpiece of Jewish immigrant life—was published to considerable acclaim in 1932 but soon vanished from literary consciousness. It languished until 1960, when Alfred Kazin and Leslie Fiedler named it “the most neglected book of the past twenty-five years.”
Make it the second-most-neglected book: One Foot in America, Yuri Suhl’s recently reissued immigrant novel, covers much of the same territory as Roth’s masterpiece, but whereas Call It Sleep is dark and brooding, Suhl’s book is a fast-paced, entertaining picaresque.
Published by Macmillan in 1950, the book garnered enthusiastic reviews but has been out of print for over 60 years. It tells the story of Sol (Shloime) Kenner, a good-natured and strong-willed immigrant who relishes his passage from “greenhorn” to fully fledged American in the mid-1920s. The new edition was published in paperback by Now and Then Books earlier this year.
The novel tells Suhl’s largely autobiographical story. He was born in Galician Poland and came to America in 1923. Like his narrator, he settled in Brooklyn and worked at menial jobs while attending night school, eventually graduating from college and making a living by teaching the children of Yiddish-speaking immigrants. Later, he edited the left-leaning magazine Jewish Currents. His interests were broad: He published poetry, children’s books, several works of nonfiction, and two novels. And unlike many of his contemporaries, he gravitated not toward the psychological complexities of the immigrant’s experience but toward its more lively, Dickensian aspects.I gravitate to such novels, reading them (devouring them, actually) all despite their similarities. But similarities do not equate to sameness. Each story has something to say. adding a piece of the puzzle of what is called the Jewish Immigrant Experience in America (which includes, in my books, Canada), These books tell me as much about life in the Old Country as they do about life then in the Goldene Medina. Therein lies my interest.
For more, go to [Tablet]