My father spent indoors time sitting at a desk in the den. The wall to the right of the desk had floor to ceiling bookshelves held up by brackets. The books were a mix of books on math, books on French and novels. Each book had Pressman firmly written on the upper right corner of the first page. For Father’s Day, I read a book from my father’s collection that I knew had significance to my father- Call It Sleep by Henry Roth.
Call It Sleep was written in 1934. The book’s sound bite is that it is about the “Jewish immigrant experience in America at the turn of the century.” The book follows David Schearl, young Jewish boy who lives with his mother and father, recent immigrants from Austria,in Brooklyn and the lower East Side.
This book was a tough read. The easy reason that it was tough is the style. Street dialect, Yiddish, Hebrew, eloquent literary English and Joycean steam of consciousness make a queasy mix.
The hard reason it was tough is that it answered a question I never asked my father. “Dad what was your childhood like.” Poverty doesn’t begin to be the answer. The answer was brutal and filthy and sexually explicit and violent. The answer was a bitter angry silent father and a sweet but helpless mother. Such emotional impoverishment. Reading this book was gut wrenching because I was reading the explanation of my father. Dad, what was it like for you to go from this to raking the leaves in Fair Lawn? I hope you know you did much better for us.