By the Waters of Manhattan
Author: Charles Reznikoff
Publisher: Black Sparrow Press (2008)
By the Waters of Manhattan, Charles Reznikoff's first novel, published in 1930 by Charles Boni in New York. Part family saga, part bildungsroman, and part unrequited love story, the novel follows the lives of a Jewish family at the turn of the century from Elizavetgrad, Russia, to Brownsville, Brooklyn, birthplace of the novel's protagonist, Ezekiel, a young poet in search of ways to feed his stomach and his soul. Like Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, and Henry Roth, Reznikoff's subject is as much the great island of Manhattan, as it is its inhabitants, struggling for their place in a new world.
Milton Hindus wrote, "Both Whitman and Reznikoff are singers and chroniclers of the American island, the name of which derives from the language (Manna-hatta) of its original inhabitants. Reznikoff's title also includes an allusion to the waters of Babylon beside which the prophet sat down and wept. The American Jew, who had been born in Brooklyn in 1894 and whose parents had emigrated from Czarist Russia some years before that date, evidently felt, like the hero of one of the novels of George Gissing, that he had been 'born in exile'. But the reader should not, on this account, be expecting a tearful immigrant narrative, for if Reznikoff was a student of the Bible he was also a student of another student of the Bible, the philosopher Spinoza. From this stoic master, he had learned neither to laugh nor cry but to try to understand."