I Pity the Poor Immigrant Summary & Study Guide

Zachary Lazar
This Study Guide consists of approximately 71 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of I Pity the Poor Immigrant.
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I Pity the Poor Immigrant Summary & Study Guide Description

I Pity the Poor Immigrant Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

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When Hannah Groff was 12, her mother died and her father, Lawrence, began a brief affair with Hannah’s Hebrew teacher, Gila Konig. The affair ended when Lawrence told Hannah, who didn’t take the news well. Despite Lawrence’s sacrifice, Hannah never quite forgives her father or Gila, who had also been Hannah’s caregiver during and after Hannah’s mother’s illness.

The story begins with an adult Hannah, a freelance crime journalist, having just published her first memoir and on the brink of covering a murder mystery that will lead to her second memoir, the novel itself.

The murder victim is an Israeli poet and essayist, David Bellen. Bellen comes from a rough Tel Aviv neighborhood that gave rise to much of Israel’s organized crime. His work is critical of Israel and he uses the revered King David as a stand-in for the mobsters in Bellen’s work, Kid Bethlehem.

Connected to all of these characters is Jewish-American gangster Meyer Lansky, one of the founders of Las Vegas. Gila had an affair with Lansky in the 1970s when he sought Israeli citizenship to avoid facing criminal charges in the United States. Shortly after Lansky leaves Israel, Gila begins an affair with Bellen before using the apartment Lansky left her to raise enough money to get to the United States.

Lansky, Bellen and Gila all have their own complicated parent/child relationships – Lanky’s and Bellen’s with their respective sons and Gila with her mother. Lansky’s crippled son, his wife said, was a judgement from God for Lansky’s criminal activities. Buddy Lansky becomes a gambling addict and eventually a destitute invalid. Eliav Bellen falls into a life of drug addiction, eventually leading to fundamentalist Jews forcing him to kill his own father. Gila’s mother traded sexual favors for food while they languished in a concentration camp, and then Gila put her own life on hold for eight years to care for her cancer-stricken mother. Gila feels it’s her duty and she loves her mother, but she also resents that she has to do it.

Through all of their trials, the various players explore their connection to their religion and their people’s historic homeland. How does being Jewish shape them? What of Israel and its fight for survival in the midst of Islamic nations that would tear the nation apart? What responsibility does Israel have in its conflicts with the Palestinians?

As people who try but never quite succeed at fitting in with the rest of the world, Jews must fight for their place, and in many ways they must fight for their very survival. Hannah’s response to this is to reject her heritage. Lansky’s is to embrace his. Is either of them doing what’s best?

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