Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Lodz (lewj). Industrial city in central Poland, about seventy-five miles southwest of Warsaw, in which the novel is set. The growth of the city from a sleepy village to the center of Poland’s textile industry is important to the novel. During the nineteenth century, the Russian government encouraged weavers in Germany and Moravia to come to Poland, where they were given free land, special conditions, and ready markets. The government’s goal was to establish an industry that could take advantage of Poland’s natural resources. As a consequence, many weavers settled in Lodz. As the textile industry expanded, Lodz’s Jewish community rose from a few dozen people to thousands as Jews arrived from Poland’s countryside and Russia—from which they were expelled. Some of these people prospered in the weaving trade; most, however, remained poor and lived in Balut, an impoverished, working-class section of Lodz, which author Israel Joshua Singer describes as “Russia’s greatest manufacturing centre of textiles and revolutionaries.”

The novel ends shortly after the Soviet Union comes into existence, and Poland struggles to regain its independence. Meanwhile, Lodz experiences alternating periods of boom and depression, and the novel ends with a period of great depression as Polish independence means that Lodz loses its vital Russian markets for its textiles. The workers’ movements that arise do not win new rights for the...

(The entire section is 597 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Howe, Irving. Introduction to The Brothers Ashkenazi, by Israel Joshua Singer. 1st ed. New York: Atheneum, 1980. Provides an assessment of the work as a historical novel and relates it to other examples of the genre. Claims that Singer adopted the Marxist notion that the sweep of history determines the lives and actions of individuals.

Howe, Irving. World of Our Fathers. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976. Links Singer with Scholem Asch as being Yiddish writers who achieved fame by writing in the tradition of European novelists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Compares his techniques in The Brothers Ashkenazi with those used by Thomas Mann.

Norich, Anita. The Homeless Imagination in the Fiction of Israel Joshua Singer. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991. Focuses on cultural dimensions of Singer’s writing. Offers a sensitive reading of The Brothers Ashkenazi and discusses the tensions Singer creates by contrasting the “extraordinary changes of the period he is depicting” with the static nature of the Jewish fate.

Schulz, Max F. “The Family Chronicle as Paradigm of History in The Brothers Ashkenazi and The Family Moskat.” In The Achievement of Isaac Bashevis Singer, edited by Marcia Allentuck. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969. Compares Singer’s novel to one by his more famous brother, Isaac Bashevis Singer, showing how each adapts the conventions of the family epic to the demands of a public attuned to the complexities of the historical process.

Sinclair, Claire. The Brothers Singer. London: Allison & Busby, 1983. Extensive analysis of major characters in The Brothers Ashkenazi. Pays special attention to the political and historical dimensions of the work.