Home  »  Volume XVIII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART III  »  § 46. Israel Hurwitz (Z. Libin)

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.

XXXI. Non-English Writings I

§ 46. Israel Hurwitz (Z. Libin)

Z. Libin (Israel Hurowits, born in Russia in 1872) occupies in American Yiddish fiction the place that Rosenfeld occupies in poetry, though much less talented and relatively free from nationalistic themes. His realism was inspired by the Russian masters at whose altar most of the Yiddish-American writers still worship, but his themes are predominantly local. He writes of the Jewish workman in the sweat shop, in the pestiferous tenement house, in the slums of the summer resorts. He treats of poverty, unemployment, misery, disease, the “white plague,” and all the agonies of soul that these generate. He does not protest, accuse, or denounce, as does his brother poet; he is simply a recorder of the multiform hell of the Ghetto. His genuine pathos lies in the simplicity and accuracy of his tales. “The life of the Jewish workmen in New York is the life I know best,” he writes in his autobiography. “My Muse was born in the dark sweat shop, her first painful cry resounded near the Singer machine, she was brought up in the tenement tombs.” In his later years, when the more objectionable aspects of the sweat shop were gradually becoming extinct, Libin relaxed somewhat, and admitted a little humour to his stories. But essentially he remained the Ghetto writer, with a talent for the cheerless, the desolate. Z. Levin is another of the realistic “skitze” writers. Many of his stories are meritorious, but with all the correctness of his realism, with all his insight into human motives, he leaves the reader cold. Only the worshippers of realism as a cult enjoy him.