Book Reviews -- We Fall and Rise: Russian-Language Newspapers in New York City, 1889-1914 by Robert A. Karlowich

Article excerpt

Karlowich, Robert A. We Fall and Rise: Russian-Language Newspapers in New York City, 1889-1914. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1991. 356 pp. $39.50.

Few newspapers but the great ones maintain archives which can be plumbed for study of their institutional histories. For the ethnic press, the situation is worse. Because few of these papers survive to the present, and because descendants of the editors and publishers increasingly lack facility with the original language, these descendants discard most original documents that might help answer historians' questions. Because of these problems, Robert Karlowich had to depend in his book almost entirely on existing copies of the fifteen newspapers he studied. Some of them are missing, so that he had to tease what he could of their histories out of what their competitors were writing, memoirs, and several personal archives. Thus, when journalists stopped writing in these papers, and when the people they were writing about were no longer news, they largely disappeared from history.

The book describes two periods of history, 1889-99 and 1907-14, for Russian-language newspapers in New York City. During the intervening eight years, no papers were published. The first period, in which six papers appeared, was characterized by a strong Russian-Jewish presence in the press, a revolutionary outlook, small circulations, and short newspaper lives. The Russian-language papers stood little chance of competing against the more mass-based Yiddish-language press. The second period was marked by a more pluralist press, divided among socialist, liberal and nationalist Orthodox camps. But all of the papers struggled in the face of the hard reality of an ethnic Russian population of barely over 100,000 in the mid-Atlantic region, half of whom were probably illiterate. …