The Free Thinkers

The Free Thinkers

by Layle Silbert


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Layle Silbert's stories trace struggles and joys of lives overlooked. In The Free Thinkers: Two Novellas, she gives these lost lives a new voice, recovering in exacting detail the world of newly arrived Eastern European Jews in turn-of-the-century-America. Silbert's stories chronicle their arrival in Chicago and New York, and follow them as they trade Yiddish and Russian for English, find work in factories and Jewish newspapers, attend Zionist meetings, and struggle toward the promise of freedom and happiness.
The Free Thinkers tells two tales. The first novella focuses on Ida, an independent woman, a "freethinker" devoted to finding her own way in America. A factory forelady, a patron of the theater, and an instinctive feminist, she is determined to find total freedom in a man's world-no matter where it leads her.
The collection's other novella chronicles the lives of three sisters from the Ukraine as they find husbands and start their own families in America. Two masterful chapters at the heart of the novella describe their mother's arrival, after the great war and the revolution, to a small Indiana town. She is "a vision, in her clothes, her posture, the very air around her, a vision of a sight on a street in the village they'd all come from, suddenly seamlessly transported into this pleasant spring morning to the very middle of America."
In Layle Silbert's tender Stories of the New World, as in the best stories of Chekov, the slightest gesture carries with it the weight of the world. Nothing happens, everything happens. Silbert's writing is delicate, as if dusted by the wings of a visiting angel, here to present for posterity the way things were.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781583220757
Publisher: Seven Stories Press
Publication date: 07/28/2001
Pages: 317
Product dimensions: 6.02(w) x 8.99(h) x 0.84(d)

About the Author

Born in 1913 in a Yiddish-speaking household in Chicago, LAYLE SILBERT attended the University of Chicago and pursued a career in social work before before turning, later in life, to photography and fiction. By the 1960s Silbert had moved to New York City, where she was involved in both literary and radical feminist circles. Her acclaimed photographs, primarily of contemporary writers such as Nelson Algren, James Baldwin, and Elizabeth Bishop, were exhibited more than thirty times in the United States and internationally. All the while Silbert was writing in a variety of forms, including poems and a handful of personal essay, but she primarily considered herself a writer of short fiction. Her stories were published in the New York Quarterly, Literary Review, and Salmagundi, among others. The collection of stories included in Yudl, published by Seven Stories, was selected by the author for publication in the last days before her death. Silbert died in 2003.

Table of Contents

What's Right What's Wrong11
The Free Thinkers
The Free Thinkers35
Free Union59
The Center of the World89
Letters from Prison115
The Idealists
The Departure of Borodin147
The Reunion169
The Arrival189
The Death of Little Jackie204
I Pledge213
The Idealists226
The Supplicants243
In a Chicago Department Store252
The Warning256
Not a Time for Jokes274
The Last Husband287
Potemkin Village301

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