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Pale of Settlement

Stories by Margot Singer

Publication Year: 2007

In settings from Jerusalem to Manhattan, from the archaeological ruins of the Galilee to Kathmandu, The Pale of Settlement gives us characters who struggle to piece together the history and myths of their family’s past.

This collection of linked short stories takes its title from the name of the western border region of the Russian empire within which Jews were required to live during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Susan, the stories’ main character, is a woman trapped in her own border region between youth and adulthood, familial roots in the Middle East and a typical American existence, the pull of Jewish tradition and the independence of a secular life.

In “Helicopter Days,” Susan discovers that the Israeli cousin she grew up with has joined a mysterious cult. “Lila’s Story” braids Susan’s memories of her grandmother--a German Jew arriving in Palestine to escape the Holocaust--with the story of her own affair with a married man and an invented narrative of her grandmother’s life. In “Borderland,” while trekking in Nepal, Susan meets an Israeli soldier who carries with him the terrible burden of his experience as a border guard in the Gaza Strip. And in the haunting title story, bedtime tales are set against acts of terrorism and memories of a love beyond reach. The stories of The Pale of Settlement explore the borderland between Israelis and American Jews, emigrants and expatriates, and vanished homelands and the dangerous world in which we live today.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction


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pp. xi-

Many of the stories in this collection first appeared in journals (some in slightly different form): “Helicopter Days” in Ascent; “Reunification” in Agni; “Lila’s Story” in Shenandoah; “As Dawn Splits” (the first section of “Deir Yassin”) in the Mid-American Review; ...

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Helicopter Days

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pp. 1- 21

The bomb went off downtown, near the entrance to the Haifa Carmelit subway, at 5:27 on a Friday morning in late June. It blew up a white Fiat and shattered the plate glass windows of the Bank Hapoalim branch across the intersection. It exploded a streetlight, ...

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pp. 22- 35

The Berlin Wall came down the year that they broke up. Her ex-boyfriend sent her photographs, a whole roll of film, close-ups of the graffiti, swirls and curves and curlicues, like strange ideograms. ...

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Lila’s Story

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pp. 36- 57

In my memory, my grandmother is framed by flowers. Head-high stalks of gladioli, a backdrop of hibiscus, anemones at her feet. My grandmother is smiling, cheek to bloom. Here are the flowers still: tricolor lantana bordering the sidewalk, vermilion bougainvillea...

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pp. 58- 84

Susan could spot an Israeli anywhere. Among the tourists in the Thamel Backpacker’s Café—the familiar crowd of Germans and Australians, rangy kids and rugged types who looked ready to head up Everest at a sprint—he stood out right away: the ropy muscles, ...

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Deir Yassin

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pp. 85- 116

All the way from New York to Tel Aviv, she keeps the box beneath the seat in front of her. She slips off her sandals and touches it with her toes. A movie flickers overhead; the darkened shades are rimmed with static slits of light. The man next to her guffaws into...

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pp. 117- 147

Avraham couldn’t find it anywhere. He remembered it clearly enough—a small fabric-bound diary, its pages wrinkled from the impression of a ballpoint pen, that he’d found in Leah’s old room, nearly forty years ago, as he was clearing out the Sanhedria flat. ...

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pp. 148- 165

What Leah remembered many years later was that it was May and it was snowing and throughout the city the branches on the budding trees were snapping under the weight of leaves and blossoms and the unexpected snow. She didn’t really remember the pain of ...

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Body Count

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pp. 166- 187

In the morning she pulled the news stories off the wire. There were always a few familiar bylines; the rest scrolled along her screen anonymous as soldiers, every sentence ranked and measured, every voice the same. Today, again, the news was the West Bank. Israeli...

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The Pale of Settlement

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pp. 188- 211

Her mother told her bedtime stories. The stories were about her mother’s childhood and they were always sad. Her mother would sit on the edge of the bed and smooth her hand along the quilt. Once upon a time, she would begin, as if the stories might be made-up...

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A Note on Sources

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pp. 213-

In this work of fiction, I have drawn on and transformed a range of factual materials in an effort to render the historical, political, and intellectual context of these stories as accurately as possible. For the history of the founding of the state of Israel and the Arab-Israeli...

E-ISBN-13: 9780820335865
E-ISBN-10: 082033586X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820330006
Print-ISBN-10: 0820330000

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction
Series Editor Byline: Nancy Zafris, Series Editor See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 826516993
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Pale of Settlement

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Subject Headings

  • Jews -- Identity -- Fiction.
  • Jewish diaspora -- Fiction.
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