"THE FIRST CLASSIC OF JEWISH AMERICAN LITERATURE"
(BERGER, Samuel) CAHAN, Abraham. The Rise of David Levinsky. New York and London: Harper & Brothers, (1917). Octavo, original red cloth. $2500.
First edition of Cahan's "literary masterpiece," a fascinating association copy inscribed by Jewish American Olympic medalist and heavyweight boxing champion Samuel Berger to Vaudeville actor and film producer Bobby North, with Berger's inscription dated the year after publication, "To My Friend Bobby North, Knowing that his knowledge and appreciation of the subject with which it deals, will make this pleasurable reading, Samuel Berger, July 10, 1918."
The Rise of David Levinsky is "the first classic of Jewish American literature… In it Cahan created one of the greatest characters of Jewish American fiction." Born in a Lithuanian village, Cahan fled pogroms to arrive in New York City in 1882. He became the "great socialist leader of East Side Jewry, a major spokesperson for the American Jewish community, and the founder and for decades the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Daily Forward, the most important Jewish newspaper in America" (Sternlicht, Masterpieces of Jewish American Literature, 17-23). "The unrivalled record of a great historical experience, the novel belongs not only in the genre of immigrant fiction but also among the best novels of American business" (John Higham). A "literary masterpiece," it tells the life of a "Jewish boy from Russia who comes to America, abandons his religious orthodoxy, and plunges into the world of business, only to find wealth but lose his soul" (Lipsky, Rise of Abraham Cahan). Cahan infused the novel "with his own fascination with the pitfalls and the possibilities of American life" (Sternlicht, 20).
As Mencken said of Cahan: "It is a fine feat to write a first-rate novel, but it is also a fine feat to steer a great newspaper from success to success in difficult times. He has done both" (ANB). First edition, first issue: with code "H-R" on copyright page indicating publication in August 1917. With two rear leaves of publisher's ads. No known dust jacket. Serialized in 1913 in a much-abbreviated form in McClure Magazine. Bruccoli & Clark, 83. Rideout, Radical Novel, 294. Hanna 556. This association copy contains a presentation inscription by the Jewish American athlete Samuel Berger, who was "the first Olympic Heavyweight Boxing Champion, winning his gold medal at the 1904 St. Louis Olympiad… the first time boxing was included on the Olympic program… the 6'2"/200-pound heavyweight turned professional immediately after the Olympics, but fought only two years" (Siegman, International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, 49). His inscription is to Robert "Bobby" North, who "rose from the ranks of Vaudeville and the legitimate stage to be one of the film industry's leading producers in the 1930s, responsible for many feature films at First National and Warner Brothers" (Slide, Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, 375). Prior to North's film career, he was early described as a "Jewish player" who emerged "from the East Side… [and] left Yiddish parlance to appear in English dramas"" (Theatre, Vol. 28:156).
Text very fresh, mild rubbing to boards, faint toning to spine of gilt-stamped cloth. A near-fine copy with a distinctive association.