The Pale of Settlement

Stories by Margot Singer


"It is awe inspiring to witness the nine converging storms in The Pale of Settlement. Each devastating story embodies the violence we commit against truth on the battlefields of familial and national struggle, in the arms of our lovers, and at the sides of our ancestors. Without a single false moment, the vivid world dramas shift back and forth from the Jersey shore to Haifa, and the compelling inward journeys span six decades. Readers yearning for the elemental forces to return to contemporary American fiction will applaud Singer's thundering debut."
—Kevin McIlvoy, author of The Complete History of New Mexico: Stories

"These are very personal stories embedded in the public sphere—a deft braiding together of private life and the political and religious context in which desire unfolds. Margot Singer's collection of interlinked tales is full of both promise and delivery: a first-rate debut."
—Nicholas Delbanco, author of Spring and Fall

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In settings from Jerusalem to Manhattan, from the archaeological ruins of the Galilee to Kathmandu, The Pale of Settlement gives us characters who struggle to piece together the history and myths of their family’s past.

This collection of linked short stories takes its title from the name of the western border region of the Russian empire within which Jews were required to live during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Susan, the stories’ main character, is a woman trapped in her own border region between youth and adulthood, familial roots in the Middle East and a typical American existence, the pull of Jewish tradition and the independence of a secular life.

In “Helicopter Days,” Susan discovers that the Israeli cousin she grew up with has joined a mysterious cult. “Lila’s Story” braids Susan’s memories of her grandmother--a German Jew arriving in Palestine to escape the Holocaust--with the story of her own affair with a married man and an invented narrative of her grandmother’s life. In “Borderland,” while trekking in Nepal, Susan meets an Israeli soldier who carries with him the terrible burden of his experience as a border guard in the Gaza Strip. And in the haunting title story, bedtime tales are set against acts of terrorism and memories of a love beyond reach. The stories of The Pale of Settlement explore the borderland between Israelis and American Jews, emigrants and expatriates, and vanished homelands and the dangerous world in which we live today.

Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction

Page count: 232 pp.
Trim size: 5.25 x 8


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Margot Singer’s fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals, including the Sun, AGNI, North American Review, and Ascent. She won Shenandoah’s Thomas H. Carter Prize for the Essay, was a finalist for the Prairie Schooner Book Prize, and has received an NEA Literature Fellowship in Prose. Singer currently lives in Granville, Ohio, where she is an assistant professor of English at Denison University.