cover image The UnAmericans

The UnAmericans

Molly Antopol. Norton, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-393-24113-6

At the core of this debut collection is an exploration of those difficult ties that bind families and communities. Spanning a large swath of the 20th century, these are stories about the older generation of Jews who fled Europe and saw their courage tested: Jewish-American laborers, actors, and intelligentsia who believed in larger—if failed—causes, such as communism, and paid a price for their commitment. The stories are also about the chasm between fathers and their children, as well as between brothers. Antopol’s narrators are men and women of various ages, from America, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union. In “My Grandmother Tells Me This Story,” a grandmother recounts her dangerous mission for the Yiddish Underground at Horodetz, once part of Poland but now in Belarus. “Minor Heroics” tells of a young man saving his older brother’s life on an Israeli moshav (settlement); the “The Unknown Soldier” is about an actor, jailed for a year in 1950 for allegedly anti-American activities, who tries to rekindle his relationship with his 10-year-old son. The collection crescendos with “The Quietest Man,” in which a former dissident from Communist-era Prague obsesses about how he is to be portrayed in a play written by the daughter he neglected. There are no happy endings, nor does Antopol people her stories with heroes. What draws the reader to her deeply flawed characters is their keen self-awareness, and their consequent ability to act with a semblance of moral, sometimes even selfless, integrity. (Feb.)