There is much to recommend this book, the story is interesting, the characters are believable, the action is relatively fast paced. There are several insightful moments and passages scattered throughout. Readers who enjoy period, or historical, fiction should enjoy this author’s first effort at writing a fictional work.
The narrative begins aboard one of the many transatlantic passenger ships plying the Atlantic with immigrants heading to the ‘promised land’ that they believe America to be. This is the period just prior to WWI. Pincus, the protagonist, has essentially abandoned his whole family and livelihood in an effort to escape the persecution and pogroms of his ancestral homeland in southeastern Poland.
Though a thoroughly meek fellow he has screwed up his courage to make the voyage with every intention of establishing a cobbler’s shop in the new world and, by the end of his first year, saving enough money to send for his pregnant wife and young children. For various reasons, and because of various people he will meet, his plan will not play out as he expects.
While Pincus can be regarded as the main character there are a host of other interesting and impactful personalities. In fact, at times Pincus himself seems to become less the focus than some other supporting characters. This makes for a more interesting story and allows the reader a broader perspective on the period - and contrasting personalities.
There is also an element of mysticism, especially toward the end of the story. The final part of the narrative is somewhat anti-climatic. It seems a bit rushed and is not as compelling as some other parts of the book. Having said that, the author does wrap up the various elements of the story on an up beat.
The verdict; a worthy effort, a good read.
"I enjoyed this book albeit it held a dark story. None the less I was riveted to it, waiting for the next installment in the remarkable Jewish migration to the USA. For anyone who has Eastern European links this is a must read - and to anyone who has experienced migration I say the same."
Story of an immigrant to the US from Eastern Europe. Very similar to other books I have read as to their need to immigrate and the harsh reality of the boat ride across the Atlantic. What was different was the way Pincus settled in on the Lower East Side of NYC and his "friends" way of doing business. Interesting how he rescued his family during WWI.
This could be the story of many people whose grandparents (or great grandparents) came from Eastern Europe to escape anti-Semitism. My father was born on the Lower East Side of NYC about the time that Pincus arrived as his family had left Poland for a better life in the US. I especially liked the descriptions of coming into Ellis Island and what one had to go thru to be processed and allowed to enter America.
Pincus had it a little easier than many people as he came with a trade and was able to quickly set up a shop; at times it almost seemed too easy. I wasn't familiar with Landsman Societies but that seemed to be the way to help many immigrants from one's home area to get adjusted to living in America.
The story goes back and forth between Pincus in America, his family still living in Eastern Europe and how they all cope.
The writing was easy to read and follow. The author did a great job of "painting" a picture of what life was like during the time period and had good character descriptions. At times I thought the story dragged on but overall I enjoyed the story.
The Cobbler’s Tale begins in a small Jewish community in Galicia, in 1910 it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. (Today it is in Poland.) Pincus Potasznik, is a second generation cobbler (cobblers repaired, cleaned and made shoes and boots) with a shop inherited from his father, his wife Clara, pregnant, and three children.
He is Jewish in a time and place where life is hard and sometimes dangerous for Jews. 1910 is a time of massive emigration from Eastern Europe to America. The first point of settlement was often the Lower East Side area of New York City. Everyone said things were going to get worse for Jews.
His neighbors said Pincus, “go to America, the streets are paved with gold, no body starves, their are no pogroms”. After getting up the courage to talk to his Rabbi who encourages him to go he gets up the nerve to tell his wife he is moving to America. The plan is he will, as many men have done, set up housekeeping and start a shop and then after a year come back for her and the children. They will be supported by income from the cobbler shop and he will send money back.
After following his trip to the port, he will meet a man who will be his “partner” in settling in NYC. His friend, with a shady past going to America under a false name, makes a very important connection to what turns out to be a powerful Jewish gangster. Gordon does a great job taking us along on steerage to America. Everyone is worried about the Ellis Island interview.
The friend of Pincus was given the card of a man that helps new arrivals. Every chapter has an exciting turn. We meet crooked Irish cops, gangsters and a beautiful Irish singer who will play a big part in the story. Four years go by, the NYC cobbler shop is doing well and Pincus sends home money. There is a lot of drama back in Poland and in NYC.
Then war breaks out and Pincus knows he must go get his family. So he and his friend head back. After a very emotional reunion and a turmoil filled prelude they are in the way to NYC. But this time they are traveling first class. It was interesting to learn immigrants in first class did not have to go through the interview process on Ellis Island. An official would come on board the ship and do all the paperwork there.
There is just a lot of great detail, cliffhanger turns, fascinating characters in The Cobbler’s Tale. An immigrant Jew needed help getting a job, a place to live and much more. A very big aid in this were landsmanshaftn organizations whose members all came originally from one particular area.
Pincus, with the help of another man from his village, sets up an organization designed for new arrivals from his area. Eventually it has over 300 members. Founding this society gave him a high standing back in his village and in NYC. Any kind of a problem you went to the head of your landsmanshaftn for help. Gordon does a great job bringing to reality life in the Lower East Side of New York City.
I really enjoyed this book a lot. For those considering this book for young adults there is an R rated near rape seen. Aside from this, this would be very readable by young adults. For a historical treatment of the NYC Jewish immigrant experience I highly recommend World of Our Fathers The Journey of the East European Jews to America and the Life they Found and Made by Irving Howe.
My bottom line. The Cobbler’s Tale is a first rate historical novel about the Jewish immigrant experience in New York City. The characters are very well developed, you can easily transport your self to the Lower East Side in 1914 through the very elegant prose of Gordon. Neil Perry Gordon grew up in the village of Monsey, a suburb of New York City, and still lives today not far from his childhood home. His joy of art and fiction writing was kindled during his education at the Green Meadow Waldorf School.
He has written two trade books, The Designer’s Coach and An Architect’s Guide to Engineered Shading Solutions. Both books, as well as many trade articles, have been well received and have affirmed Neil’s expertise in the window covering industry. A Cobbler’s Tale is Neil’s first novel and is based loosely on the story of his great-grandparents’ immigration to the Lower East Side...
I enjoyed this book very much. The story line is one you know and this author re-imagines it beautifully.
The author uses short descriptive chapters which keeps the story moving quickly and had me turning pages for more.Characters were well developed and I found myself thinking about them away from the book. There are plenty of twists and turns, one of my favorites (without revealing too much) was when the main characters finally get back to the US and things seem to be all wrapped up and resolved…not so fast.
The author does a great job of capturing the challenging environment of Eastern Europe just before and then during the onset of World War 1 and an equally good job at portraying life in Manhattan’s lower east side during the height of European migration.
I enjoyed this story on many levels. It’s primarily about family struggles and the bonds that keep us together but it’s also a love story with no shortage of high drama and suspense. A few scenes were so descriptive I would actually cringe and pause a moment before reading on.
A thoroughly enjoyable read. Great job Mr. Gordon, I look forward to more from you
Yesterday I finished reading "A Cobbler's Tale" -- it is an absolute delight! Real page-turner!! Many times I felt as if I were watching a movie... And the amount of research that must've gone into it is astounding -- how did you find time?! I know you're running a successful business...
Now my son is reading, and I see him frowning and giggling and frowning again. The book is so captivating...
Looking forward to you next novel,
Historical novels can sometimes slow you down with too much information and dry facts. Not this novel. Mr. Gordon uses short chapters, interesting characters and just enough detail to keep you asking, "What will happen next?" By using this method, Gordon transports you back in time and across two continents to share the adventures of Pincus, Clara and other memorable characters who risk their lives in war torn Europe and the Lower East Side of New York City looking for a better life for their families. If you're not a fan of historical fiction, this book may change your mind.
Great American Dream meets Great American Novel.
“Love is the light that triumphs over darkness,” Moshe Potasznik says in A COBBLER'S TALE, and this message could not have better timing. Neil Perry Gordon draws from his own family lore to impart knowledge and take readers on a roller coaster of emotion in this sizzling page-turner. The writing is as beautiful as the Broadway starlet, the epic quest as righteous as the tzaddik, the drama as rich as the regal prince and racketeering bosses, the takeaway as vital as the venerable rabbis in old and new worlds. Now is the time to look into the soul. Now is the time for courage. Now is the time for empathy. Hold onto your dreams and hold onto your shoes.
Readers of all faiths will love the thrilling experience of A COBBLER'S TALE.
Mark Newman, No. 1 bestselling author of DIAMONDS FROM THE DUGOUT