Set in 1920s Chicago, the short novel Yudl follows its eponymous protagonist, a middle-aged editor at a left-leaning newspaper called The Yiddish Courier. Yudl and his wife have decided to become landlords, purchasing a vacant lot and hiring an acquaintance—aptly named Mason—to oversee the construction of their future apartment building. However, delays in the construction leave Yudl and his family without a home, forcing them to stay with Mason and his family until the construction is finally complete. Told with wry wit and a masterful sensibility for metaphor, the story explores gender, Zionism, and the immigrant experience in the US.
The selection of short stories that follow the novel in this volume were selected by the author from her deathbed during her last weeks and then hours on earth. Silbert's graceful short stories focus on the family, allowing the reader glimpses of a child's happiness, the cripplingly contradictory demands of femininity, the complexity of grief, and a sustained meditation on life and death.
About Layle Silbert
Born in 1913 in a Yiddish-speaking household in Chicago, LAYLE SILBERT attended the University of Chicago and pursued a career in social work before before turning, later in life, to photography and fiction. By the 1960s Silbert had moved to New York City, where she was involved in both literary and radical feminist circles. Her acclaimed photographs, primarily of contemporary writers such as Nelson Algren, James Baldwin, and Elizabeth Bishop, were exhibited more than thirty times in the United States and internationally. All the while Silbert was writing in a variety of forms, including poems and a handful of personal essay, but she primarily considered herself a writer of short fiction. Her stories were published in the New York Quarterly, Literary Review, and Salmagundi, among others. The collection of stories included in Yudl, published by Seven Stories, was selected by the author for publication in the last days before her death. Silbert died in 2003.
“The early immigration of Jews to America is almost forgotten now but there was a time when Yiddish/American culture was an important patch in the quilt we know as America. What is left is the wonderful Yiddish storytelling tradition that is also now being somewhat forgotten. The American dream here is depicted as both rewarding and fearful and 'the promise of freedom and prosperity is accompanied by anxiety, guilt and regret'."
—Reviews by Amos
"Throughout this collection, Silbert’s photographic experience adds light and shadow to her settings, while her minute observation of smell helps to re-create 1920s America. This is a slow-paced, thoughtful collection with elegant prose and ironic overtones."
—Historical Novel Society