Cursing Columbus

By: Eve Tal
It’s 1910. You’re a Jewish immigrant living on the Lower East Side. You should thank Columbus?


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Would they love America like I did or would they say "a curse on Columbus" because the New World brought them nothing but trouble and hard work?"

Three years have passed since Papa and teenage daughter Raizel immigrated from czarist Russia. They have saved enough money to bring their remaining family to America. Their dream of a better life is about to come true. Or is it?
"The dream was always the same: I was back in Russia. My family was sitting around the Sabbath table: Mama, Papa, baby Hannah and my brothers Lemmel and Shloyme. I was telling a story about America—there were gold streets and chickens roosting in trees. Suddenly, Papa and I were on board ship sailing far away. Ahead I saw the Statue of Liberty towering over the harbor of New York, but she raised her hand high above her head to stop us. I looked around for Papa. I was all alone. Then I woke up and remembered. Papa and I had arrived at Ellis Island. For three years we had been living on the Lower East Side of New York. Papa worked in a sweat shop earning money to bring over the rest of the family, while I worked after school. I dreamed of the day our family would be together again. And tomorrow, it would finally happen. Would they love America like I did or would they say "a curse on Columbus" because the New World brought them nothing but trouble and hard work?"
Eve Tal was born in the United States, but lives on Kibbutz Hatzor in Israel. Cursing Columbus is her second YA novel and is the sequel to Double Crossing, which is based on her grandfather's immigration story from the Ukraine.

4 reviews for Cursing Columbus

  1. Booklist
    Not everything in America is wonderful and not everything from the Old Country should be discarded.” Told through the alternating narratives of two Jewish immigrant teens, Raizel, 14, and her brother Lemmel, 13, this gripping novel, set in Mahattan’s Lower East Side in 1908, goes beyond sentimentality about the promised land of America to show a heartbreaking, sometimes brutal, daily struggle. Lemmel cannot read, but he is too ashamed to let his parents know his secret, and he runs away from home, barely surviving on the streets. Raizel’s dream is to become a teacher, but Mama needs Raizel at home (“What is so important about school for a girl anyway?”). At school, Raizel wins a prize for an essay honoring Columbus, and Tal never explores the prejudice it contains against “native Indians.” What works so well here are the vividly detailed descriptions of Yiddish culture; the opportunities in the new country; and the troubles and the riches left behind.

    A great title to prompt discussion about discrimination against new immigrants, now and then, as well as the valuable diversity newcomers bring.

  2. Kirkus Reviews
    It’s 1908, and 13-year-old Raizel and her father have been living in New York for three years after finally being accepted at Ellis Island (their refusal and subsequent admission were chronicled in 2005’s Double Crossing); now the rest of the family has arrived from the Ukraine. Little Shloyme adapts with ease, but Raizel’s mother is horrified at how far her husband and daughter have slipped in their observance of their faith and customs, and 12-year-old Lemmel downright hates everything about his new life: School and his bar mitzvah lessons are just about impossible, because, try as he might, he can’t read.

    The narrative follows the two older children, in alternating first-person narrations, as Raizel struggles to convince her mother that, in America, education isn’t wasted on a girl and as Lemmel resists and then runs away to scrape by on the streets rather than shame his family. Readers will find both characters and their situation sympathetic and will root for them to pull through.

  3. Foreword Magazine
    FINDING ME: YA Characters Overcome Obstacles and Become Themselves

    For Raizel Altman, the fourteen-year-old protagonist in Cursing Columbus, poverty is one of the greatest threats to self-actualization. After working with her father for three years to bring the rest of their family to America from Russia, the day finally arrives when Raizel is reunited with her mother, sister, and two brothers. Although the family is thrilled to be together again, they are confronted with massive hardships that make the dream of a better American life seem like a fantasy. While in America, Raizel has excelled at school, learning English quickly and developing a love of reading. However, her dream of becoming a teacher is threatened when her mother expects her to leave school as soon as the law allows so she can work or help out at home. Raizel is torn between her love of her family and her personal goals. Lemmel, her younger brother, also struggles with his place in their family. Afraid to admit his troubles at school, Lemmel runs away and falls in with a gang. Alternating the viewpoints of Lemmel and Raizel, author Eve Tal, in the sequel to her award-winning Double Crossing, has created a vivid picture of the struggles and experiences of an immigrant family, from the assimilation process (Raizel’s family must change their names to sound more “American”) and financial hardships, to ultimately finding a place in their new home. Middle readers looking for a moving novel with a strong story will enjoy this book.

  4. Teaching Tolerance
    Eve Tal shares the story of a family of Jewish immigrants to the United States in the early 1900s. Raizel and Lemmel, siblings, tell their stories, giving us a look at the Jewish immigration experience. The dilemmas immigrants faced then are similar to today’s problems. The author encourages us to think about the tradeoff involved in assimilating in American society and giving up traditional customs. The book also comes with a handy glossary and recommended reading.

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