March 4, 2013
Ekaterinoslav: One Family’s Passage to America, A Memoir in Verse by Jane Yolen
Jane Yolen grew up believing that her father had been born in the United States, in New Haven. It wasn’t until Yolen herself was in her 70s that she saw his “Declaration of Intent,” a piece of paperwork that he had been required to sign as a 7 year-old when passing into the United States through Ellis Island. He had, in fact, been born in Ekaterinoslav, a small Jewish town in the Russian Ukraine. Thus began Yolen’s quest to find out a bit more about her family and how they came to New England.
She learned about Ekaterinoslav where her grandfather made a living for his family selling bottled kerosene and her grandmother looked more like a Ukrainian peasant than a Jew. She learned about Cossack raids and soldiers and families simply trying to live their lives in spite of the turmoil being whipped up all around them.
These same families faced hard choices. Should they venture to the United States and maybe find a land of hope? Or should they stay in the Ukraine where, if not easy, life was at least predictable? Some would stay and some would go but the decision was never simple.
Yolen didn’t have a juvenile audience in mind when she wrote this book as evidenced by one poem, Furrows, in which she speculates what the teenage girls may have been thinking whenever they encountered handsome Russian soldiers. That said, the single reference is much less explicit than what is found in many young adult novels.
Teens who are preparing to leave one home to make another would make an excellent audience for this story of a family doing much the same thing. Young poets will find the work especially intriguing as Yolen uses various poetic forms to tell a larger story. A slim 53 pages, the book gives the reader food for thought on many different levels.