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A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York

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Overview

An evocative, elegiac love letter to New York City and the immigrant culture that continues to make it the most original and influential city in the world.

As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, a surge of Jewish immigrants to New York City reshaped indelibly not only the culture of the metropolis but of America itself. Struggling to assimilate to a new world while reconciling it to the old one they had left behind, these men and women shared their most private ...

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A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York (PagePerfect NOOK Book)

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Overview

An evocative, elegiac love letter to New York City and the immigrant culture that continues to make it the most original and influential city in the world.

As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, a surge of Jewish immigrants to New York City reshaped indelibly not only the culture of the metropolis but of America itself. Struggling to assimilate to a new world while reconciling it to the old one they had left behind, these men and women shared their most private hopes and fears in a series of letters submitted to "A Bintel Brief"—Yiddish for "A Bundle of Letters"—the enormously popular, deeply affecting and often hilarious advice column of the newspaper The Forward.

Conceived by Abraham Cahan, editor of The Forward, who answered every letter himself, A Bintel Brief transformed the fortunes of the paper, rapidly making it the most widely read Yiddish-language newspaper in the world. The letters that flooded into A Bintel Brief spoke with unparalleled immediacy to the daily heartbreaks and comedies of their bewildered writers' new lives, capturing the hope, isolation and confusion of assimilation, from intergenerational family politics and judgmental neighbors to crises of faith, unrequited love, runaway husbands, soul-crushing poverty and the difficulty of building an entirely new life from scratch.

Drawn from these letters—selected and adapted by Liana Finck and brought to life in her singularly expressive illustrations that combine Art Spiegelman's deft emotionality and the magical spirit of Marc Chagall—A Bintel Brief is a wonderful panorama of a world and its people who, though long gone, are startlingly like ourselves. It is also a platonic love story of sorts between Abraham Cahan and Liana, as they engage in a bittersweet dialogue that explores the pleasures and perils of nostalgia, even as it affirms the necessary forward movement of life.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - David Kipen
[Finck's] visual style…varies from chapter to chapter, depending on the material. In some places, it feels handmade to the point of amateurishness; elsewhere, it is plangent as heartbreak. Taken together, even just these 11 letters provide an invaluable sooty window onto life on the Lower East Side…Inevitably, A Bintel Brief makes you positively hungry to read comparable letters to American immigrant newspapers around the country right now…
Publishers Weekly
03/03/2014
The Jewish Daily Forward was a Yiddish socialist newspaper based in New York City (known simply as “the Forward”) that, among other things, helped early-20th-century Jewish immigrants adapt to their new lives in America; “Bintel Briefs” was a hugely popular advice column based on letters from readers. Finck fictionalizes a collection of these letters, turning them into short stories linked together through the narrative of a young woman who finds the letters pasted into a book belonging to her grandfather. When she opens the book, Abraham Cahan, the founding editor of the Forward, leaps out and joins her. Cahan takes her through the stories and grows and changes himself, now living in the present day. It’s a clever idea, but one that never quite resonates emotionally. Finck’s art is decidedly and deliberately crude but has its charms. Each letter has a slightly different visual style, which is intended to reflect its story, but the art is not distinctive enough to feel deliberate, and it instead ends up feeling inconsistent and, in some cases, amateurish. The present day interludes that connect the stories give some consistency, but they’re printed in a strange faded blue font that is hard to read. (Apr.)
NPR's Fresh Air
“[One] the most powerful books I’ve read so far this year… Finck’s illustrations intensify the emotional resonance of these letters, invoking the buoyant magic of Marc Chagall, but also sometimes descending into the cramped world of the tenements.”
The Paris Review (online review)
“[Finck] brings an entirely new dimension to what has become, for modern readers, a portal into a world that feels impossibly distant.”
New York Times
Taken together, even just these 11 letters provide an invaluable sooty window onto life on the Lower East Side…. “A Bintel Brief” makes you positively hungry to read comparable letters to American immigrant newspapers around the country right now.”
Slate
“[A] sharp, evocative style that reminds me sometimes of Ben Katchor and other times of Roz Chast. Finck’s book is more than a collection of advice columns, though-it’s an imaginative leap into the art of nostalgia…I really loved A Bintel Brief.”
Tablet
“A wonderfully illustrated gem of a book…I’ve read that story several times over the years, but rarely savored it quite the way I did with Finck’s book. This is because of the drawings.”
Miami Herald
“[A] rich, hilarious and authentic fable. …Finck’s versatility and imagination makes this book a delight.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062291615
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/15/2014
  • Pages: 128
  • Sales rank: 245,913
  • Product dimensions: 7.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Liana Finck studied fine art and graphic design at Cooper Union College. A former Fulbright fellow and recipient of a Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists, her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Forward and Tablet, among other publications. She lives in New York City.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2014

    Meditative and lovely. History with a sense of humor.

    Meditative and lovely. History with a sense of humor.

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