This is such a Rivington Street readalike that it’s hard not to compare the two. Both begin in Russia around the turn of the 20th century and move to the Lower East Side after a pogrom. Both are about young Jewish female union workers and both have lesbian characters, and both depict the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.
Lesbians are a lot more central in Beyond the Pale than in Rivington Street, and so is the analysis of women (and children) in the labor movement, even though labor is covered in greater depth in RS.
Both books also look at how the uptown ladies interact with the Lower East Side immigrant factory workers. A quote from Dykewomon on the subject:
The rich were among us so often I began to remember lines form the Dickens novels I’d read in Kishinev. We were the smudge-faced poor, holding out our hats, begging “please, ma’am, for the suffering widows and orphans.” Emma Goldman wrote that wealthy women were just trying to get our sympathy for the vote and that when we got the vote, they’d turn their backs on us.
While I am drawn to the subjects covered in both books, I didn’t find BtP as compelling as I wanted it to be. It is told mostly in the voice of Chava, orphaned by a pogrom and living with relatives. A second voice is that of Gutke Gurvich, a midwife who gets psychic flashes, especially when she delivers babies, especially lesbian ones, and who is married to a woman passing as a man. I would have liked to have heard more from her. While I absolutely recommend BtP for its subject matter, and the fact that it at least tangentially gets at lots of topics, including Negro women workers of the same period, the characters don’t grab me the way the members of RS’s Levy family and their friends do. BtP is a good read, and probably better if you read it without having read RS first. One thing I will say for BtP is that the story of the hidden lesbian lives is powerful, and several passages really pulled at my heartstrings.
CATS: Not even the bougie couple have one. Bad lesbians!
“You sound like a capitalist, all excited about machinery,” I said. “Aren’t you afraid that [linotype] will put printers out of work?”
“I was, but now I understand that the more books and pamphlets there are, the more men will read.” He dropped his voice. “And with this machine, we can make up our own pamphlets when the boss is out and melt the evidence before he comes back.” He leaned back in the sunlight, very pleased with himself.
The Williamsburg Bridge was its own sin. Its construction, Lena told me, made hundreds of people homeless when their buildings were torn down. A little like pogrom of progress, burning anything in its path, making Jews take to the roads with everything they owned on their backs, or move in with their relatives and landslayt, crowding more than we were ever crowded in Kishinev.