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“The old one is a barrel with a stave missing,” knowingly declared his neighbors. “He never spends a cent; and he belongs nowheres.” For “to belong,” on New York’s East Side, is of no slight importance.
With Benjamin Rosenblatt’s “Zelig” comes another immigrant’s story. Zelig is an old man in Russia when his son sends word from New York that he is sick. Zelig saves money so that he and his wife can move to New York to be with their son and grandson. New York isn’t exactly Zelig’s ideal place to live – it’s not home. So he begins saving money to go back to Russia.
The story is short and to the point and told in a manner that could be considered a fable. It at least seems like a fable, now. Perhaps it wasn’t when published in 1915. It’s not a happy fable in that Zelig’s way of life is completely shattered. His attempts to save money are usurped by this new world and its customs. The story also contains a “lack of belonging” theme that many immigrant stories have. To top it all off, Zelig is old – something not very acceptable to this new world.
“Zelig” is the first story chronologically speaking in The Best Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike. I read it when I selected the Ten of Clubs for Week 31 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project. My Deal Me In List can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.