The Landsmen is a novel of Jewish-American roots. Set in the village of Golinsk in Czarist Russia at the end of the nineteenth century, it evokes life under a system of massively cruel anti-Semitism. The word “landsmen” in Yiddish means people from the same place, but in this novel it conveys the larger meaning of “brothers”—in suffering, in faith, in humanity.
Peter Martin wrote the novel from the memories of the old people he knew as a boy in Brooklyn. The result is a work of fiction that is rich in a sense of time and place. The effect is bardic. Each section of the novel is narrated by one of nine characters: Yeersel, the tailor; Maisha, the religion teacher; Laib, the musician; Shim, his brother; Nochim, the dairyman; Berel, the watercarrier; Laib-Shmul, the butcher; Tzippe-Sora, the distiller; and Mottel, the outcast. Some migrated to America; some died in Golinsk.
First published in 1952, The Landsmen was the first volume of a projected trilogy, and was written to establish a sense of Jewish identity as the background for a large fictional examination of Jewish-American life. Although The Landsmen was well received and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, it was never republished. The second volume of the trilogy, The Building, appeared in 1960. Peter Martin died in 1961. [Southern Illinois University Press]