Scribner's Magazine
Book Reviews by Eli Siegel 1931-1934

From Scribner's, December 1933

Three Cities: A Trilogy. By Sholom Asch. Putnam's. $3.

This work is undoubtedly impressive and awing. It comes at you like a shapely giant. It is fiction on the Grand Tour. And nowhere is there better contemporary history. What it lacks is wholeness of feeling: a deep and graceful seeing of the world all the way through. In brief, it towers above most modern novels, but it is not quite a great work.

Zachary Mirkin, an extremely sensitive and singularly honest young Jew, born rich in Russia, is the principal person in the work. He tries to get his soul on good terms with a squirming and swiftly changing earth. He is in Petersburg, with its Czar, its imperial graft, and hideously maltreated Jews. He is in Warsaw when Jews are being torn between the grand mysticism of the Jewish way of seeing a most solid God and such things as May Day parades and shots of Cossacks. He is in Moscow when the Bolsheviks introduce themselves to a non-welcoming society. And all the while Mirkin is troubled by Justice: Justice and a woman's breasts shining whitely and maternally in a gorgeously arranged Petersburg room; Justice and money inherited from a father apart from him; Justice and stench in Warsaw rooms; Justice and the bodies of scheming bourgeoisie efficiently shot by Bolshevik officials; Justice and things he didn't know anything about. While Mirkin agonizes, fights, travels, ponders, sickens, Asch displays Eastern Europe to us realistically and floridly. He shows us Lenin, that quiet displacer of universal landmarks; some of the best writing in the book is where Lenin dismisses the Russian Constitutional Assembly gathered just after the Bolsheviks took power. Here Asch is funny and poetic; his writing rings deeply and permanently. When Asch shows us just what Bolshevism did to the minute-by-minute life of persons who had seen other times, he is better than any of those many historical and sociological describers of Russia deciding to go in for Marxian renovations and house-cleaning.

Eli Siegel.

Reviews by Eli Siegel from Scribner's Magazines 1931-1934. Copyright 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934 Charles Scribner's Sons; copyrights renewed. Reprinted with the permission of Charles Scribner's Sons.

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