This was the 'Kishinev pogrom,' a 'dreadful moment' in Jewish Diaspora life, Steven J. Zipperstein writes in his impressive, heart-wrenching new book on the subject ... Zipperstein gives us a strong, clear narrative as well as appalling details ... Each of us will take from this book what most resonates with us. For this reviewer, it was the chapter on the poet Hayim Nahman Bialik, who wrote a celebrated poem about the pogrom, following a five-week evidence-gathering mission to the city ... Read in the immediate aftermath of Philip Roth’s death, Zipperstein’s account of the poem’s reception prompts a particular thought. Why was a 1903 poem utterly damning of Kishinev’s Jews so well received, while Roth’s 1960s fiction, mildly satirical of New Jersey’s Jews, so hostilely received (as it undoubtedly was) by so much of his Jewish world? ... As Zipperstein makes clear in his masterly work, this sort of remove [that Roth had from Judaism] was not on offer in Kishinev when Jews had mostly one question on their minds: How long would they be the victims of history?
Zipperstein convincingly asserts that the event was exploited and mythologized, becoming a legendary and often-distorted symbol of Russian autocracy. Russian officials, including Czar Nicholas, disliked Jews but disliked mob violence and popular action even more. Zipperstein fully rejects the charge of government promotion of the attack. He also indicates how embellished reports were used to both stir up further resentments against Jews and to spur Jews to emigrate. This is a superb account of both a terrible mass attack and the effects it had upon the broader Jewish population.
Pogrom is an outstanding book, both for what it says directly and for all it implies ... Zipperstein brilliantly, and consequentially, traces the shift in anti-Semitic ideology from one based mainly in religious difference to one based in economics and cultural conflict ... But the book’s most profound impact might well be how we view anti-Semitic movements and their close progeny -- other racist or extreme nativist movements -- today.