In the western reaches of the Russian Empire lies the «Pale of Settlement». Trapped in its shtetlach; surrounded by hostility on all sides, are the bulk of Russia's Jews. Historian Anna Halberstam-Rubin has written a fascinating book - drawing on the original stories of the Yiddish humorist Sholom Aleichem - in which she portrays life in the Pale. She describes not only the various forms of oppression, poverty and degradation of the victims, but also their response - the institutions and defenses they adopted to retain their spirit. By focusing throughout on the impact of events on people, the author supplies the human link so often missing from conventional accounts of history.