Though technically a remembrance of the circumstances and history of an actual advice column featured in the Yiddish newspaper The Forward, published in New York City in first half of the 20th Century, Linia Finck’s sweet and personable debut graphic novel A Bintel Brief (Amazon) goes far beyond the call of duty in its depiction. Finck uses the columns of old as a way of examining Jewish-American history, particularly in an immigrant context, and how it relates to Jewish people nowadays, particularly Finck herself.
The story features Finck’s strange ghostly encounter with a book of newspaper clippings in her grandparents’ house as a child, and then its subsequent reappearance in her life, along with the specter who spooked her back as a kid. It turns out that specter is none of than Abraham Cahan, editor of the newspaper and writer of the column. Their friendship grows as they wander around together, Finck discovering tidbits about the new world while reciting to Finck actual columns and circumstances surrounding them, often with Finck’s own reactions to those dramas.
Eventually, though, certain revelations arise and the role of the advice column becomes elevated. The importance of soothing stories and recognizable tropes masquerading as problems to be solved in the new world becomes clear, and Finck may now be able to see a direct path from these people to her own generation.
More importantly, though, are the lines that Finck begins to draw between herself and Cahan, in context of capturing other people’s stories and relating those narratives. These moments of realization are charming, but also carry the appropriate weight. Finck is part of a movement through time, and her understanding of her place in a historical progression is as touching as her portrayal of Cahan and the stories his column documented.