WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING
BOOKLIST STARRED REVIEW
Grades 7-10. Based on the experience of the author’s grandfather at the turn of the twentieth century, this novel starts off as the archetypal Jewish coming-to-America story. Raizel, 12, leaves the Ukraine with her father, a devout peddler who flees pogroms and conscription into the Czar’s army, intending to send for the rest of his family later. The separation, the trauma, the dream of golden America, the journey across Europe, the ocean voyage, the inspections and arrival at Ellis Island—the historical detail is dense. But Raizel’s lively first-person narrative is anything but reverential. She misses her brother, but she’s jealous because he gets to go to school, and she resents her father’s keeping kosher, which means they stay hungry during the journey in the crowded ship. Her view of adults and kids, family and strangers, back home and on the perilous adventure, brings the people on the journey very close. Best of all is the shocking surprise that changes everything, even Papa—a haunting aspect of the immigrant story left too long untold. –Hazel Rochman, Booklist, August 2005
KIRKUS STARRED REVIEW
Twelve-year-old Raizel chafes under the strict gender roles that govern her daily life in her Ukrainian shtetl in 1905, but she is nonetheless reluctant to leave when her father decides that she, of all the family’s children, should accompany him to America. Their journey is difficult, but more rigorous than the physical hardships are the challenges to Jewish orthodoxy they encounter along the way: Finding kosher food is so difficult, for instance, that her father refuses all nourishment during the Atlantic crossing. It is when they are refused entry at Ellis Island and sent back to Europe, however, that their faith is tested the most. Raizel is the perfect vehicle for the narrative, her yearning to read never leading to anachronistic feistiness, just an appropriately Jewish desire to interrogate the world around her and to question just how a Jew can fit into the universe beyond the shtetl. Her love of stories—that weave throughout the narrative—serves as both release from the terrors of the double crossing and prism for her spiritual quest. Outstanding in both its structure and its questioning of faith, this offering is not to be missed. (Fiction 10-14) Kirkus Review. October 1, 2005
Tal tells the story of her own grandfather’s trip to America at the turn of the twentieth century, adding as a narrator a fictional daughter, Raizal, who serves as her father’s companion on a hazardous trip half-way around the world. Twelve-year-old Raizal did not expect to leave the small Russian village of Jibatov ever, let alone to take a trip to America, a role that she thinks should rightly be filled be her adventurous younger brother, Lemmel, the oldest son. But Lemmel must stay in school, so Raizal is sent along to take care of her father. There is enough danger and adventure in any immigration story, but Raizal’s is different. The title hints but gives nothing away.
In this strong historical fiction novel, Raizal is a true storyteller even though she cannot read. She retells traditional folk legends taught to her by her grandmother and trades Chelm stories with her father, as well as makes up new tales in Jewish storytelling tradition. The novel brings to life, at a very basic level, existence for a young Jewish girl isolated in small village surrounded by Orthodox neighbors like herself, as she is suddenly thrown into to other societies across Europe and at sea. The story focuses on the trip alone and the challenges to their traditions faced by Raizal and her father. Readers will look forward to a sequel focusing on Raizal’s life in America.
Beth Karpas. April 2006
This book draws a beautiful picture of family life in Eastern Europe and the journey of a father and his oldest daughter to America. It tells of the friends they make along the way and of the difficulties they encounter. The father is a very Orthodox Jew who keeps the laws in all their details. Even though hungry and sick, he will not eat when the food is not kosher.
They arrive in the promise land and are rejected because the father has no real trade and will not compromise the old traditions of his faith. The father loses hope, because going back home is full of danger. On the boat back to Europe they meet some assimilated Jews who help and shelter them. They raise the question about “what is a Jew”—inside and out. The father is convinced to shave his beard and dress in modern clothes. He finds that even then he has not lost himself. “Better a Jew without a beard than a beard without a Jew.”
They start off for a second try at going to America. There they can work and bring the rest of the family to safety.
Raizel, the narrator and main character of the story, has a talent for telling stories. With this she befriends strangers and makes everyone’s life more bearable. Although this is not a true story, it is based on an experience of the author’s family coming to America several generations ago. Tal certainly has inherited the story-telling gift.
Ruth G. Becker. Spring 2006.
BULLETIN OF THE CENTER FOR CHILDREN'S BOOKS
Although she loves to entertain her baby brother and sister with tales of the wonders of America, twelve-year-old Raizel doesn’t want to go there; despite the pogroms and the uncertainty of being a young Jewish girl in 1905 Russia, she would much prefer the comfort and familiarity of her tiny village of Jibatov. She is left without a choice, however, when her father Benjamin comes home with two tickets—one adult and on child—and chooses her as his companion. This unusual immigrant tale focuses on the journey far more than the arrival; the trains, the covert border crossing through a raging river, the subsequent fever, the waiting for steamboat tickets in Antwerp, the passage over the Atlantic, and, upon arriving at Ellis Island, the declaration that an unfit Benjamin must return with his daughter to Russia. Back aboard, Benjamin retreats to his cabin, completely void of any hope and certain that he will be arrested for avoiding the czar’s draft. Meanwhile, Raizel befriends an elderly Jewish woman who proves their salvation as she helps Benjamin and Raizel both financially and practically as they prepare for their third and final crossing. Raizel’s voice carries this introspective novel; full of reflections, memories, and carefully constructed metaphors, her narration effectively details the events of the journey. Infected with her grandmother’s “storytelling sickness,” she tells tales throughout the pages—folktales, religious tales, invented tales—that add an additional layer to this already multilayered novel. The role of religion is especially well described: a devout Jew who looks down upon modernized expressions of the faith and struggles with change, Benjamin is now caught up in an enormous change, one for which he was not fully prepared. While there are many stories of Jewish immigration in the early twentieth century, this uniquely told tale of double crossing deserves wide readership. An afterword is included.
Hope Morrison. Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. Volume 59.
WORLD JEWISH DIGEST
New beginnings are always hard, as the Hebrew proverb says. And Eve Tal conveys this lesson so superbly in her brand new book, “Double Crossing,” that I had tears in my eyes by the second chapter.
Young Raizel narrates as she and her father travel to the New World through rocky emotional, religious, and physical waters, barely surviving at times.
This succulent story will enhance your holiday table with discussions about faith, family history, and changes in ritual observance through the generations. I highly recommend it as reading for both parents and children.
Sari Steinberg. World Jewish Digest. Oct.2005
Raizel Balaban and her devoutly orthodox father, Benjamin, are Jews who leave the Ukraine for America. Along the long ocean passage, Raizel and her father become ill, and when they arrive in the US, Benjamin's poor health and odd appearance get them sent away. Raizel persuades her father to shed his beard and to eat kosher food, and they return to the US, this time Boston, to it another try. (M/H). Tal's recreates the fear of programs and the tension of the crossing to the US while telling the story of a remarkable young woman whose gift for language helps her father survive.
Bill's Best Books ALAN Online August 2005
ASSOCIATION OF JEWISH LIBRARIES (AJL) NEWSLETTER
This coming-of-age saga, set in 1905, is written in a compelling and easy-to-read style. It is told from the point of view of 12-year old Raizel, who is chosen to travel to America with her father from a rural village in the Czar's Russia. She has no desire to leave her village, which , for her, is filled with the stories and the history that she has been told by her beloved grandmother. The rest of the family remains in Jibatov for the moment. Razel and her father are smuggled by horse and buggy to Austro-Hungary, travel by train to Antwerp, and finally find themselves in steerage on a ship to New York. With each trip, challenges must be dealt with, and the little girl from small-town Russia begins to change into a capable young woman who is able to deal with adversity, with her father's issues, and with being rejected at Ellis Island. Her father has to grapple with the painful issue of how he will continue to carry on his Jewish traditions. A relationship Raizel develops with an older Jewish woman and her family on the ship back to Europe strengthens her. This family's assistance and her newfound insights help make it possible for Raizel and her father to eventually make a successful crossing to America. Recommended for readers in Junior high school
Shelly Feit, Moriah School Library, Englewood, NJ. Nov/Dec.2005
JEWISH BOOK WORLD
Almost 12-year-old Raizel accompanies her father on an arduous journey of immigration from Russia to America – twice. Rejected at Ellis Island, the pair return to their embarkation point of Antwerp, where kindly Jewish fellow passengers help them plan a more successful second attempt. The story is based on the misadventures of the author’s own grandfather. The story is well-written, smooth, and absorbing, with characters who are alive, sympathetic, and believable. Raizel’s frequent storytelling adds interest and helps to move the tale along. The feminist overtones, which have become common in recent historical novels, are present but are not overdone. Philosophical questions are raised for characters and readers to ponder, such as whether it is the inside self or outward practices that make a person Jewish. The story is by turns thoughtful and adventurous and this skillful pacing distinguishes it from many immigration stories. The themes of hardship, adaptation, and courage are universal to any immigrant experience, and the book will be enjoyed by Jewish and non-Jewish readers alike. Highly recommended for ages 10 – 13.
Heidi Estrin, Nov.2005
WANDS AND WORDS
The year is 1905, and eleven-year-old Raizel and her Jewish family live in the Ukraine. But life under Czarist Russia is difficult for the Jews, who are discriminated against, persecuted and sometimes even killed in the Pograms. To escape this life, Raizel accompanies her father on a journey to America, where he hopes to get a job and earn enough money to bring over the rest of the family. The journey is long and fraught with danger: an adventure that spans three continents. And even once they reach America, nothing is assured. Will Raizel and her father be allowed to enter America? Or will their long journey be in vain?
Double Crossing is a deeply moving story that explores issues of identity and religion while portraying vividly the experience that many immigrants had in coming to America. Raizel is a spunky, likeable heroine with a talent for storytelling, and her first person narrative draws the reader in and creates a connection that bridges any differences in culture and religion.
Author Eve Tal based the story on her grandfather’s immigration experience. Double Crossing would be a wonderful addition to a classroom or homeschool unit on American immigration and Ellis Island, Czarist Russia, or Jewish history. This excellent book received a well-deserved starred review from both Kirkus and Booklist. Sheila Ruth. http://www.wandsandworlds.com/blog1/2006/03/double-crossing_29.html