Book Club



The Junk Dealer's Daughter


The late Sarah Blacher Cohen (1936-2008) was a playwright and producer, prolific literary critic, anthologist, Yiddishist, and professor of English Literature at SUNY-Albany.


In an "interrupted" memoir of growing up in an immigrant Jewish family in Appleton, Wisconsin, through the Forties and Fifties, the late Sarah Blacher Cohen first takes us back to the White Russian village where her parents met amidst pogroms. She details her father's arrest for avoiding the Czar's army, their hairbreadth escape to America, her father's workaday world in Appleton-it included meeting with friends at the Merrytime Tavern, much to his wife's consternation-the respect he gained in Appleton's Jewish community, and some of the seminal influences that launched Sarah herself into the literary and academic world. Sadly, due to the author's death, The Junk Dealer's Daughter stops abruptly, as if in mid-sentence. Yet Sarah has evoked a time and place that is at the same time an homage to the diverse influences of family and community that go into shaping who we ourselves become.


1. In The Junk Dealer's Daughter Sarah Blacher Cohen conveys a strong sense of her Jewish heritage. What is your own ethnic background? What aspects of your heritage do you most value? Are there historical events associated with your ethnicity (or ethnicities) that you have experienced or about which you have heard family stories?

2. Part of this memoir tells a story of small town America from the thirties through the fifties. Where did you live when you were younger, and what were the differences between that place (and time) and this one?

3. Sarah Blacher Cohen fondly remembers her father, Louis Blacher, in this book, as well as Faye Sigman, principal of the Sunday School, who her father said was "the real thing" and who had "more Jewish knowledge in her little finger than the Rabbi has in his whole head." It sounds like Blacher Cohen herself was very important to her students and colleagues. Who are the most influential people in your life? Who have you influenced?

4. Because of the sudden death of the author, The Junk Dealer's Daughter ends abruptly and seems a bit shorter than it would probably have been if Blacher Cohen had had more time. How did you feel about the sudden ending of the book? Was it a good decision to bring out the book in spite of the author not having time to complete it?

5. There are photos in the book that help us picture the author and her family. How often do you look at old photos? Are the younger people in your family interested in these pictures? Have you ever thought of using them to write about your own life?

This reading group guide is provided by Small Press Distribution to Engage as You Age as part of the "I Remember Project" to support reading groups for seniors in Marin Country. SPD's "I Remember Project" is generously supported by the Marin Community Foundation.

Marin Community Foundation
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