NYC native pens immigrant survival story against backdrop of war and corruption
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Mysticism, adventure, struggle and a family going beyond their limits to survive — these are the subjects readers can expect while reading Neil Perry Gordon’s debut historical fiction release, “A Cobbler’s Tale.”
This is the story of a young Jewish immigrant, Pincus Potasznik, a cobbler who leaves his pregnant wife Clara and children behind in Eastern Europe’s Galicia region in search of a better life on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Complete with fast-paced storylines, “A Cobbler’s Tale” immediately engages the reader on a wild ride as it begins with Pincus’ treacherous ride on the SS Amerika through the violent seas of the Atlantic. On the ship Pincus makes the acquaintance of hooligan Jakob Adler, a risk-taker who becomes Pincus’ partner-in-crime, and changes the immigrant’s story forever.
Attempting to make a life for himself in the U.S. and later resettle his family, Pincus is unaware of the threats and adversity Clara and his children are facing back in their shtetl during World War I. As “A Cobbler’s Tale” weaves together two distinct stories of struggle from Clara to Pincus, the reader can enjoy dual, yet connected plot lines. Relatable to the present-day immigration crisis of separated families escaping persecution for a better life, Gordon brilliantly exposes struggles any immigrant would face immersing into a new culture and country.
Moshe Potasznik, Pincus and Clara’s oldest son, adds an element of Kabbalah, the ancient Jewish mysticism around the ability to foretell dire events and to bring peace to those suffering. As the story is loosely based on true events, Moshe is Gordon’s grandfather.
Gordon adds, “My voice in ‘A Cobbler’s Tale’ came from growing up in a multigenerational Jewish family. The small day-to-day intricacies of living with grandparents, who immigrated as children to America, provided me with a direct connection and an ability to tell their stories.”
Smith Publicity: What are the real-life, historical aspects of “A Cobbler’s Tale”?
Neil Perry Gordon: Many of the characters in the book, including the protagonist, Pincus Potasznik, were family. Pincus and his wife Clara, were in fact, my great-grandparents, and Moshe was my grandfather. Although Pincus did leave his pregnant wife Clara, and three small children behind when he immigrated to America, he didn’t actually return for them until after the war ended in 1920, unlike story told in the book. Pincus was indeed a cobbler, as well as the founder of the Landsman Society of Krzywcza, which helped people from his village establish new lives in the America. During WW1, the fighting between Russia and the central powers in Galicia was extraordinarily bloody. By the end of 1914, the Russians controlled almost all of Galicia only to be pushed out in 1915 by the combined German, Austro-Hungarian and Turkish forces. Today the area is split between Poland and Ukraine. The Jewish immigration to the Lower East Side is also historically accurate; their influence is still present today.
Smith Publicity: What process did you go through to understand 1910 — from the Lower East Side to living in a shtetl?
Gordon: Fortunately there is a good amount of information online describing how people lived in shtetls in Galicia region. It was important for me to fully understand how they described their existence and what was important to them. I used the same process for researching the Lower East Side in the 1910’s. In addition, I visited Ellis Island to provide an understanding of the Jewish immigration story. This included a private tour of the abandoned hospital facilities on the island, which offered insights to the immigration experience.
Smith Publicity: What is the significance of the Kabbalah references?
Gordon: An important part of the story, revolves around the spiritual figure known as the tzaddik. According to Kabbalah, there are only 36 tzaddik on earth at any one time. A person who is considered tzaddik, is also referred to as the “righteous one.” As in many spiritual practices, as a counter-balance to the tzaddik, there is the rasha, or the “evil one.” The story of the tzaddik and the rasha, are drawn upon from inspirational readings from Kabbalah mysticism.
Smith Publicity: Tell readers a little bit about the courage and fortitude of your characters, and what influenced the development of their personalities?
Gordon: The particular strengths of each character revolve around strong archetypical qualities. Pincus, for instance, realized his personal ambitions put his family at risk, and therefore needed to save them from the ravages of war. Clara displayed incredible strength and fortitude, made evident by her willingness to do anything to protect her children. Moshe was a spiritual figure who provided divine inspiration to those in need. Jakob’s loyalty to Pincus was unmatched, his energy unequaled, and was the impetus of the story’s fast pace.