Zelda Popkin: The Life and Times of an American Jewish Woman Writer

Rowman & Littlefield. Feb. 2023. 304p. ISBN 9781538168431. $28. BIOG
Popkin (history, Univ. of Kentucky; A New World Begins) examines the life of his grandmother, novelist Zelda Feinberg Popkin. Born in 1898 in Brooklyn, Zelda attended Columbia University and became a reporter for the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader. Popkin demonstrates the ways in which Zelda moved in multiple milieus. The child of Jewish immigrants, who were part of an exodus from Eastern Europe, she distanced herself from customs and was among the first generation of women able to cast a ballot. After marrying her husband Louis Popkin, in 1919, they began a small public relations firm. Following Louis’s sudden death in 1943, Zelda turned her attention to writing mysteries and novels. Popkin provides synopses and analyses of her work, the most successful of which was a novel titled The Journey Home, selling millions of copies in the late 1940s. Zelda endeavored to provide an alternative view of Jewish womanhood, a counterpoint to the “overbearing mother” stereotype. She also resisted Zionism, encouraging assimilation, but her own children rebelled against this ideology, embracing their Jewish heritage.
VERDICT Popkin paints a discerning portrait of a complex matriarch, while adding nuance to the Jewish American experience in the 20th century. Recommended.
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