In the 1890s, a family immigrated into America from Poland. Anzia Yezierska recalls the stress and strife of living her with relatives among other Jewish immigrants on New York’s Lower East Side in Bread Givers. Published in 1925, the book features the travails experienced by Sara Smolinsky in a work originally subtitled “A Struggle between a Father of the Old World and a Daughter of the New.” Consider Sara Smolinky to essentially be the semi-fictionalized doppelganger of Yeziersky. In fact, the novel is universally considered the most autobiographical of her early works and marks the culmination of a very successful period in her career as an author.
Bread Givers was well-received by critics upon publication, although the positive reception was hardly universal. Jewish critics felt that the book’s reliance upon Yiddish dialect was to their detriment and based more upon the desire of Yezierska to create humor for her non-Jewish readers. Although she was massively popular before the publication of this book, Yezierska’s star eventually dimmed and the book fell out of print through the 1940s and 1950s. Perhaps not coincidentally, this was exactly the era that saw the rise of Jewish fiction as a serious genre in America. Reliance upon Yiddish dialect for what was perceived as less than serious in intent contributed to Bread Givers being edged out of space on book shelves, to make room for the works of Singer, Bellow, Malamud, Roth and many others who came in their wake.