Monday, October 19, 2009

A Curse on Columbus

Eve Tal's newest book, Cursing Columbus, is now available. This YA fiction title is the sequel to the successful and well-reviewed Double Crossing (Cinco Puntos, 2005), Eve's first historical novel about Jewish immigrants to New York City in the early years of last century. In Double Crossing, Raizel and her father escape Czarist Russia and take the dangerous journey across Europe and the Atlantic Ocean. They left behind Raizel's mother and brothers. In Cursing Columbus three years have passed since Papa and teenage daughter Raizel immigrated from czarist Russia. They have saved enough money to bring Raizel's mother and brothers to America. Their dream of a better life is about to come true. Or is it? Listen to Raizel:
The dream was always the same: I was back in Russia. My family was sitting around the Sabbath table: Mama, Papa, baby Hannah and my brothers Lemmel and Shloyme. I was telling a story about America—there were gold streets and chickens roosting in trees. Suddenly, Papa and I were on board ship sailing far away. Ahead I saw the Statue of Liberty towering over the harbor of New York, but she raised her hand high above her head to stop us. I looked around for Papa. I was all alone.

Then I woke up and remembered.

Papa and I had arrived at Ellis Island. For three years we had been living on the Lower East Side of New York. Papa worked in a sweat shop earning money to bring over the rest of the family, while I worked after school. I dreamed of the day our family would be together again.

And tomorrow, it would finally happen. Would they love America like I did or would they say “a curse on Columbus” because the New World brought them nothing but trouble and hard work?

"A curse on Columbus" cried the Jewish immigrants in the early 1900’s, cursing the discovery of America which had promised so much and brought them so little. Living in airless tenements on filthy streets in New York’s overcrowded East Side, working from dawn to dark in garment sweat shops while barely making enough money to feed their children, it was no wonder they expressed their rage and despair with that mixture of bitter sarcasm that characterizes Yiddish humor. Eve remembered these curses from her own growing up in Manhatten (she now lives with her husband and children in a kibbutz in Israel).

To help explain the title for her readers--especially her YA audience--, she wrote the short essay below:
I chose Cursing Columbus as the title for my new young adult novel to counterbalance the veneer of idealization and nostalgia enveloping the Lower East Side today. Through the voices of Raizel and Lemmel, the dual protagonists, Cursing Columbus reveals a little known side of the Jewish immigration experience. Raizel dreams of becoming a teacher but must balance her personal ambitions with the needs of her family. Lemmel rejects the family’s expectations and chooses a life of crime in the brutal world of the streets.

Readers of Cursing Columbus will discover that the dilemmas facing Jewish immigrants at the turn of the previous century are similar to the dilemmas facing immigrants today. How much should individuals sacrifice their personal dreams and ambitions for the good of their family? Does the process of becoming an American necessitate the suppression of the religion, customs, language and traditions of one’s community for the sake of a common American denominator? Is the family unit strong enough to withstand the pressures of a new country with its conflicting temptations and demands?

The expression ‘a curse on Columbus’ has been largely forgotten as later generations built a better life for themselves, but the questions it invokes remain valid today."

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