Call It Sleep
David Schearl was two when his father met he and his mother at Ellis Island in 1907. Albert and Genya Schearl had been married a short time before he came to New York from Austria. Their first meeting at Ellis Island is tense as she doesn't recognize him and he is angry.
Now David is almost six. He clings to his mother and hides from his father. His mother is protective, loving. They only speak Yiddish in his home and she has never tried to learn English. Albert and David must do any translating she needs. Albert, a printer, is constantly changing jobs. David hears him complain about his coworkers and how he shouldn't have to take their attitudes. David sees his mother as she worries about his father. Finally, Albert gets a job as a milkman - better suited to his temperament for working with other people.
Out on the streets of the Jewish immigrant neighborhood, David faces a different world. He is young and just becoming aware of people outside of his own family. The world outside is very different from his life in their small apartment. The other boys say and do things he doesn't understand.
Call It Sleep views the Jewish immigrants in New York City before World War I from a unique viewpoint. Although not in first person narrative, except near the end, all the scenes are told from David's viewpoint. The reader can tell the environment is harsh, but David never sees the physical environment except as is affects him at the moment in the story.
Henry Roth has two narration styles throughout Call It Sleep. In their home, where Yiddish is the only language spoken, the language flows and is often poetic, especially when David is home alone with his mother. When his father comes home, the narrative becomes rougher and less flowing, although retains its poetry. David's familial perceptions are shown by the language used. It remains comfortable for him even during the worst arguments or uneasiest revealing of secrets.
Out in the street the language changes to the pidgeon English of the immigrant children and slang of the people out on the street. "Yuh big dope, yuh can' even do nuttin'." David's thoughts are expanding and whirling. It's scary out there and it's safer at home. Yet he can't stay home, either. Mother keeps sending him out.
Call It Sleep is easy to read but takes work to pull together and understand. It remains in David's viewpoint which gives the reader small bubbles at a time. His thoughts are often chaotic as he tries to comprehend all that is happening to him and around him. By the time the book is finished the reader has a snapshot of immigrants in New York City in the early 1900's. The Golden Land wasn't golden for everyone. Temperaments and problems that were present in the Old Country are still present in new surroundings.
Are you interested and receiving a reviewing a classic novel online? Visit the Blog a Penguin Classic Web site.
|You might also like:
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
These reviews are personal opinions only and in no way reflect other readers' opinions of the books discussed.
Book Rating System