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Kentucky, Kentucky, 0817351434, 0-8173-5143-4, 978-0-8173-5143-4, 9780817351434,

by I. J. Schwartz

Quality Paper
2004. 256 pp.
Price:  $34.95 s

An epic poem about life in America in the early 20th century, as perceived by a Jewish immigrant.

Kentucky is the first major work in Yiddish literature to present America as its primary theme. The long epic poem paints a rich picture of life in Kentucky just after the Civil War. Written between 1918 and 1922 by Lithuanian-born writer, I. J. Schwartz, it first appeared in the Yiddish journal Zukunft and later, in 1925, was published as a book. Although unknown to English readers until this translation, the book was a primary text for immigrants and potential immigrants in places as remote as Poland and Argentina who received their first impressions of America from its pages. Parts of it were even set to music and sung in choruses around the world.

I. J. Schwartz was born in Lithuania in 1885 and emigrated to New York in 1906.



"This vast lyrical masterwork was once required reading in Jewish schools from Lithuania to Argentina and was even set to music performed by Yiddish choirs around the world, providing an entire generation of Jews with their first glimpse of a wider America. Reading Kentoki today is an unsettling experience, not only because of its lyrical heights, but also because its America isn’t the “Golden Land” of sweatshop ancestors who made this country their own. Instead, Kentoki, with its rich beauty, racial tensions, and dramas of assimilation and return, feels weirdly familiar—a drill-down to the sources of the intertwined ease and discomfort that characterize Jewish life in America today."

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