Jews Without Money

by Irwin Granich

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 322

Jews Without Money is a 1930 semi-autobiographical novel by American author, journalist, and literary critic Irwin Granich, which he wrote under the pen name Mike Gold. The story is loosely based on Granich’s childhood, and it is set in the Lower East Side of New York City, which was predominantly populated by Jews.

The main protagonist is a young boy named Michael, through whom we witness the daily sufferings of the American people who live in poverty, especially the Jews. His father, Herman, is a Romanian immigrant who worked as a painter and suffers from lead poisoning, and his mother, the selfless Katie, is the central figure of the family, working in a restaurant and trying to support her family.

Essentially, the novel chronicles Michael’s life as he navigates through childhood and adulthood, trying to survive and make ends meet. Ultimately, he ‘falls victim’ to his own upbringing, to the environment, and to the era in which he lived in, becoming an ardent Marxist.

Granich boldly covers a myriad of social and cultural themes such as poverty, the importance of family, pride, honesty, honor, and Jewish identity, culture and religion. Furthermore, he manages to describe the ghetto-like mentality of poverty-stricken America, incorporating themes like crime, prostitution, immigration, Antisemitism, oppression, corruption, social activism, Marxism, and globalization.

Because of the author’s accurate portrayal of the struggles of the American proletariat under capitalism, Jews Without Money is also considered one of the first proletarian novels ever written, and as such, has gained a lot of positive reviews. Granich was praised for his raw, honest, and personal narrative, his multidimensional and relatable characters, and his authentic depiction of the Jewish community in 1930s America. However, some readers have argued that the novel’s ending is a bit abrupt and anti-climactic and have criticized Granich’s lack of artistry and finesse. Nevertheless, Jews Without Money received great commercial success and was translated into fourteen languages.

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