Hungry Hearts

by Anzia Yezierska. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1920. 8vo, vi+298 pp. $1.80,
A STRIKING group of stories, teeming with the unquenchable desire of the Jewish race for social betterment and spiritual improvement, has been collected under the title of Hungry Hearts. Its author, Anzia Yezierska, writes whereof she knows, from persona] experience of the East Side of New York and of work in its sweat-shops. Her nationality, her passionate sympathy, and her understanding humor give her words authority, and the spiritual hunger of the Polish and Russian Jews who come to this promised land either to find or to miss what their ardent souls crave, is poignantly portrayed.
In most cases the too idealistic immigrants drink of the bitter cup of disillusion, instead of the living waters of love, learning, and enlightenment with which their vivid imaginations had pictured the land of their dreams to be flowing. It is natural that, for the most part, these newly arrived girls and women, as pictured by this writer of their own race, should be possessed by an almost unbelievable ideality. Their response to all the finer feelings, to affection, to beauty , and above all to learning, puts them on a plane so high above the sordid surroundings of their daily task that at moments it seems as if Miss Yezierska must idealize the immigrants even as they have idealized the imagined America toward which their burning gaze has been turned.
But when we read ‘The Fat of the Land,’ perhaps the most artistically complete story of the collection, and ‘The Lost Beautifulness,’ we realize that the fiercer and more unlovely qualities of the disillusioned seekers for liberty are depicted as unflinchingly as are their burning hopes and faiths. These girls with the ‘hungry hearts,’ and the ’wings,’ and the burning wish for ‘beautifulners’ should suggest to us more practical and materially minded Americans, that the only way to help these people, so richly endowed with the powers of helping us with spiritual wealth undreamed of in our philosophy, is by personal understanding and individual interpretation. So-called ‘charity’ is to them an affront, perhaps some of its manifestations are slightly caricatured in Miss Yezierska’s pages, — but to the friendly hand or the understanding word these responsive people reach out their starved souls with pitiful avidity.
So vital is the problem confronting America in her treatment of alien races seeking amalgamation on the unpromising soil of her city slums, that we welcome any word, whether of fact or fiction, which throws a ray of light into the darkness ahead; and these truthful little pictures show us anew, not only that we can learn from our new citizens quite as much as we can teach them, but that what we can learn is of a fineness and spirituality which we should receive in all humility. It is not only wise men who come out of the East — it is also wisdom-seeking women, and girls with high visions and ardent dreams.
P. S.