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A Bintel Brief

Love and Longing in Old New York

About the Book

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.

Educator and Librarian Resources

Critical Praise

“[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.” —NPR's Fresh Air

“[Finck] brings an entirely new dimension to what has become, for modern readers, a portal into a world that feels impossibly distant.” —The Paris Review (online review)

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.” —New York Times

“[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.” —Slate

“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.” —Tablet

“[A] rich, hilarious and authentic fable. …Finck’s versatility and imagination makes this book a delight.” —Miami Herald

Product Details

  • ISBN: 9780062367594
  • ISBN 10: 0062367595
  • Imprint: Ecco
  • On Sale: 04/29/2014
  • Pages: 128
  • List Price: 11.99 CAD
  • BISAC1: COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / Nonfiction / General
  • BISAC2: COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS / General
  • BISAC3: HISTORY / Jewish

A Bintel Brief by Liana Finck

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