Liana Finck’s graphic novel A Bintel Brief blends history and imagination to create an experience that is rich, immersive, and satisfying. It begins when a young woman receives a notebook from her grandmother filled with clips of advice columns from the premiere Yiddish-language newspaper The Forward. When she opens the notebook Abraham Cahan himself, editor of the paper and its Miss Lonelyhearts, steps out to take the narrator on an emotional tour of the past.
The conceit enables Finck to reproduce and illustrate a representative sampling of the letters the paper printed with an empathetic, whimsical touch reminiscent of Chagall. Men and women, young and old all wrote to Cahan for new world answers to eternal—and yet wrenchingly sincere and specific—problems. Cahan tried to help but, we come to realize, his responses are beyond the point. The letter writers, crowded in tenements, still echoing with the trauma of pogroms and displacement, are in the kind of pain that can be salved only by making themselves heard. In bringing vivid clarity to their problems and helping them speak to a new generation, Finck is doing almost as much for her forebears as did the paper Cahan himself ran.