by Henry Roth
This is one I picked up years ago purely on whim from a secondhand store, which has become one of the treasured books in my library. I've probably read it a dozen times, and enjoyed every one. Call It Sleep is a vividly painted experience of Jewish immigration in the early 1900's. It is told through the eyes of a child, David Schearl, who arrives from Austria-Hungary as a toddler with his parents. The book encompasses several years of David's childhood, as he navigates the streets and gangs of a poor New York neighborhood, the stifling cheder where he learns the Hebrew of his heritage, and the tumult of his family life (his father paranoid and violent, his mother meek and secretive). One of the great things about this novel is its use of language. Yiddish is the most fluid and pure language, (written as English in the book). David's awkwardness with English and the slang of the street kids are rendered phonetically. Then there are Hebrew and Polish phrases, languages David struggles to understand- Hebrew veiling the secrets of religion he yearns to own, Polish used by his parents to conceal information from his innocent ears. But David wants most of all to understand, to belong, to feel safe- and his quest soon brings him to a loss of innocence. I've never read another book that more eloquently depicts what it is like inside the mind of a child. Highly recommended.
Rating: 5/5 ........ 462 pages, 1934