“An informative primer on Yiddish literature shared through the fascinating biography of Aaron Lansky and his efforts to save Yiddish books.”
Phone calls at midnight. Overnight drives through snow and ice. Digging through dumpsters for old books. These efforts and more are the story of Aaron Lansky, an otherwise “All-american boy” growing up in Massachusetts whose interest in family history leads him on an unsought mission to save and preserve Yiddish literature. Ever since he learned that upon her arrival in America, his grandmother’s suitcase of heirlooms was tossed into the ocean—by her own brother, no less—Aaron was intrigued by his Jewish ancestors and their lives in Eastern Europe. His interest led him first to learning Yiddish, the language of his ancestors, then to saving a small collection of Yiddish books that were being thrown out, then to an incredible path of gathering Yiddish books from around the world. While initial estimates were that fewer than a hundred thousand Yiddish books remained in existence, Aaron’s efforts have resulted in preserving more than one and a half million books. Spurred by a belief that “[b]ooks are big enough and powerful enough to define and contain identity,” Aaron met with people who shared their life stories and entrusted him with their cherished books. As one woman told him, “We didn’t eat much, . . . but we always bought a book. It was a necessity of life.” The story is talently portrayed by Innerst with acrylics and gouache in an abstract realism concrete enough to narrate a biography while flexible enough to convey broad themes like history, culture, loss, and preservation.
“Stunning.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Inspired…[a] journalistic, propulsive narrative.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
From New York Times Best Illustrated Book artist Stacy Innerst and author Sue Macy comes a story of one man’s heroic effort to save the world’s Yiddish books.
Over the last forty years, Aaron Lansky has jumped into dumpsters, rummaged around musty basements, and crawled through cramped attics. He did all of this in pursuit of a particular kind of treasure, and he’s found plenty. Lansky’s treasure was any book written Yiddish, the language of generations of European Jews. When he started looking for Yiddish books, experts estimated there might be about 70,000 still in existence. Since then, the MacArthur Genius Grant recipient has collected close to 1.5 million books, and he’s finding more every day.
Told in a folkloric voice reminiscent of Patricia Polacco, this story celebrates the power of an individual to preserve history and culture, while exploring timely themes of identity and immigration.