Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Shtetl. Small Jewish village near Kiev, Russia. Before leaving for Kiev, Yakov lives his entire life here. He leaves the village because he considers it a prison, in which he is unable to survive economically. He believes that if he leaves the shtetl his luck will change. Yakov’s sentiments about the shtetl become ironic: He leaves what he thinks is a prison only to be confined to a real prison, and instead of prospering when he leaves his community, he becomes the victim of anti-Semitism.

Yakov’s cell

Yakov’s cell. Faded stucco prison building in a commercial section of Kiev, near the brickyard where Yakov works. Most of the novel takes place in Yakov’s prison cell. He spends almost three years here, where he is placed in solitary confinement and tortured. Although imprisoned and tortured, Yakov refuses to confess to a crime he did not commit. He willingly continues to be the scapegoat for the Jewish people, as he comes to understand that if he had not been accused, another Jew would have been. Despite horrendous suffering while imprisoned, he learns to appreciate his culture and fight for his people.


*Kiev (KEE-ev). Russian city (now part of Ukraine) situated on the Dnipro River in what was the Ukrainian province of Russia during the earliest period in which the novel is set; Kiev is now a city in independent Ukraine. Yakov journeys to Kiev from the shtetl....

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