By Henry Roth
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Additional info for Call It Sleep: A Novel
Above the jagged roof tops, the white smoke, whitened abd suffused by the slanting sun, faded into the slots and wedges of the sky. She pressed her brow against her child’s, hushed him with whispers. This was that vast incredible land, the land of freedom, of immense opportunity, that Golden Land. Again she tried to smile. ” “Gehen vir voinen du? ” “Nein. Bronzeville. ” She nodded uncertainly, sighed . . Screws threshing, backing water, the Peter Stuyvesant neared her dock—drifting slowly and with canceled momentum as if reluctant.
Another’s! A goy’s! A cross! ” As a long burst of flame spurts from underground, growling “as if the veil of earth were splitting,” David is knocked out, looks dead to the hysterical crowd that froths around his body. Only his ankle is partly burnt, and in a rousing conclusion to the book he is brought back to his home. The neartragedy somehow brings Albert to his senses. As his mother weep-ingly puts David to bed, David finally has some slight sense of triumph, for he is at last at peace with himself.
In Roth’s text they speak with grace, longing, nobility. Yiddish is their real home. Even when life is fiercest, their language conveys a seeking for a better world than this, for spiritual heights customary to people who regard themselves as living under the eye of God. Yet Roth has no love for the rabbi (teacher) who for twenty-five cents a boy tries to drum the actual language of the Hebrew Bible into his cowed pupils. The “cheder,” the primitive Hebrew school in which the boys are pinched, driven, insulted so that they will at least pronounce Hebrew words without necessarily understanding them, is presented in absolutely realistic terms as a Dickens-like schoolroom of torture.
Call It Sleep: A Novel by Henry Roth