Excerpt from Call It Sleep
Wonderful bit of dialogue from Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep. Bertha is the brassy aunt of the book’s protagonist, young David Schearl, and is newly-arrived in America from the old country and living with David and his parents.
“Tell me, would you go back to Austria if you had the money?”
“Money I’d send them,” Aunt Bertha asserted flatly. “But go home—never! I’m too glad I escaped. And why should I go home? To quarrel?”
“Not even to see mother?”
“God pity her more than any. But what good what my seeing her do her? Or me? It would only give me grief. No! Neither her, nor father, nor Yetta, nor Adolf, nor Herman, nor even Saul, the baby, though God knows I was fond of him. You see I’m one who doesn’t yearn for the home land.”
“You haven’t been here long enough,” said his mother. “One grapples this land at first closer to one’s self than it’s worth.”
“Closer than it’s worth? Why? True I work like a horse and I stink like one with my own sweat. But there’s life here, isn’t there? There’s a stir here always. Listen! The street! The cars! High laughter! Ha, good! Veljish was still as a fart in company. Who could endure it? Trees! Fields! Again trees! Who can talk to trees? Here at least I can find other pastimes than sliding down the gable on a roof!”
“I suppose you’re right,” his mother laughed at her vehemence. “It appears to me that you’ll grow from green to yellow in this land years before I do. Yes, there are other pastimes here than—” She broke off, flinched even though she laughed. “That sliver of wood in your flesh! Dear God you were rash!”
“It was nothing! Nothing!” Aunt Bertha chuckled lightly. “My rump has forgotten it long ago! But should prove to you that I’m better off here than I was there. That quiet was enough to spring the brain!”
His mother shook her head non-committally.
“Still as a fart in company”—priceless! The first section of the book was a bit of a trudge, but now that Bertha has arrived in the second section, things have livened up considerably.