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

§ 47. Leon Kobrin

Of much bigger calibre is Leon Kobrin (born in Russia in 1872). His literary début was in Russian, and when he came to New York in 1892 he was surprised to hear that there was such a thing as literature in Yiddish or “jargon,” as the vernacular was contemptuously called in Russia. Nevertheless he joined hands with the inspired band of intellectuals and propagandists led by Abraham Cahan, Philip Krantz, and Benjamin Feigenbaum, and began contributing to the socialist publications in the vernacular, shelving his squeamishness and wielding his pen from right to left as best he could. In 1894 he published his first story, A Moerder aus Liebe. It attracted universal attention, and Kobrin became a Yiddish writer.

Kobrin is a realist but he is more than that. He knows the value of artistic selection and arrangement, and is something of a virtuoso of the short story. His subjects are not all of American life. He still dwells caressingly on places and characters of the old home. In his Litwisch Staedtel, written in 1914 and “dedicated to my old father and mother,” the obscure town in the Lithuanian Ghetto is treated with a love and a reminiscential tenderness worthy of a better place. In his stories of Jewish life in America he gives us vivid pictures of the life of the poor, though he does not emphasize the sombre colours. The dramatic quality of his talent is manifest in many of his tales, of which some were adapted by the author for the stage. The conflict between the older generation of immigrants and their offspring, who are as a rule out of sympathy with the uncouth “old folks,” is a favourite theme with Kobrin, and he portrays masterfully the mute tragedies of the uprooted refugees who find in America a measure of material comfort but who are agonized by new customs deeply offensive to their traditions. Of these stories the Versterter Sabath and Thier Numer 1 of the series A Tenement House are among the best.

During the fifteen years of his literary career Kobrin wrote a great deal of fiction, and with the death of Jacob Gordin became one of the principal American-Yiddish playwrights. He also enriched Yiddish fiction by creditable translations from Maupassant, Zola, Gorki, Tolstoy, Dostoevski, Chekhov, and others.