Review: Dreams in the Golden Country

Dreams in the Golden Country: The Diary of Zipporah Feldman, a Jewish Immigrant Girl, New York City, 1903 (Dear America)Dreams in the Golden Country
by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dreams in the Golden Country (New York City) / 0-590-02973-8

It seems I like all the Dear America books, and this one is no exception. Although I was expecting something a little more along the lines of "The Jungle" and a little less along the lines of "Fiddler on the Roof", this book does manage to neatly encapsulate the life of an immigrant to America in the early 1900s.

The author skims briefly over their stay at Ellis islands, the perfunctory and frightening medical exams, and the cramped apartment living that waits them in the new world. This is dealt with in a light vein, and the overall tone is never dim or depressing. The life of the family is never terribly hard - the mother starts a sewing business more to stay occupied than to bring in money, and the father is offered a position at the local university teaching violin.

Because the "immigrant hardships" are toned down so much, the conflict in the book comes from the social changes within the family: one daughter becomes involved in unions and suffrage activities, another daughter romances and marries a non-Jewish boy, and the father slowly stops following the Orthodox manner of dress and grooming, to the mother's horror and consternation. As the family is absorbed into this new culture, they have to decide which traditions are sacrosanct and which traditions can be abandoned for the new ways.

Parents might want to be aware of some of the themes presented here, depending on the age and maturity of the child. Although the theme of "immigrant hardships" is largely ignored, the book does feature two sudden deaths - one a newborn infant, and the second a worker who dies from unsafe working conditions involving a warehouse fire. The imagery is moved over as swiftly as possible, but the concepts are disturbing. One of the daughters routinely sneaks out at night to see her non-Jewish boyfriend, although there is never any indication that the young lovers are doing anything more than holding hands and kissing. Lastly, the mother can come off as an unsympathetic character, as she routinely and openly alienates several members of the family for not being "religious enough". Although this issue is resolved by the end, the mother can come across as caring more about her religion than about her family, depending on your own point of view.

~ Ana Mardoll

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