The Written Image: A Bintel Brief


When graphic novelist Liana Finck was a child, Abraham Cahan, the late editor of the Forward, a Yiddish daily newspaper founded in New York City, popped out of old clippings to greet her—or so she claims in A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York, published by Ecco in April. Finck’s book takes as its inspiration several letters published in the Forward’s advice column, A Bintel Brief, which began in 1906 and gets its name from a Yiddish phrase that translates to “a bundle of letters.” Illustrated vignettes interspersed throughout Finck’s imagined conversations with Cahan tell the true stories of a young man overwhelmed by guilt over abandoning his family while escaping a pogrom; a bride dissatisfied with her wedding gifts, which amount to fifty-two pillows; and a Polish-Jewish immigrant whose wife leaves him for his brother, a butcher on the Lower East Side. As Finck’s pen-and-ink counterpart learns of these turn-of-the-century immigrants, she comes to understand how their letters reflect mourning over the cultures lost to them through assimilation. The image above illustrates a segment of one letter from a barber who is afraid his dreams of killing George Washington will prompt him to murder patrons. More images are available on the author’s website,