Synopses & Reviews
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.
“[One] the most powerful books Ive read so far this year… Fincks 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. Fincks book is more than a collection of advice columns, though-its an imaginative leap into the art of nostalgia…I really loved A Bintel Brief.” Slate
“A wonderfully illustrated gem of a book…Ive read that story several times over the years, but rarely savored it quite the way I did with Fincks book. This is because of the drawings.” Tablet
“[A] rich, hilarious and authentic fable. …Fincks versatility and imagination makes this book a delight.” Miami Herald
In an illustrative style that is a thrilling mash-up of Art Spiegelman's deft emotionality, Roz Chast's hilarious neuroses, and the magical spirit of Marc Chagall, A Bintel Brief
is Liana Fincks evocative, elegiac love letter to the turn-of-the-century Jewish immigrants who transformed New York City and America itself.
A Bintel Brief "A Bundle of Letters"—was the enormously popular advice column of The Forward, the widely read Yiddish language newspaper begun in 1906 New York. Written by a diverse community of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, these letters spoke to the daily heartbreaks and comedies of their new lives, capturing the hope, isolation, and confusion of assimilation.
Drawn from these letters—selected and adapted by Liana Finck and brought to life in her appealing two-color illustrations—A Bintel Brief is a tour of Lower East Side New York, and includes an imaginative conversation with the Yiddish "Dear Abby," Abraham Cahan, The Forward's legendary editor and creator of the Bintel Brief column.
From premarital sex to family politics to struggles with jobs and money, A Bintel Brief is an enlightening look at a segment of America's rich cultural past that offers fresh insights for our own lives as well.
About 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.