Review by Ann McDonald
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Red Tent and Day After Night, comes an unforgettable novel about family ties and values, friendship and feminism told through the eyes of a young Jewish woman growing up in Boston in the early twentieth century.
The book opens with a young woman interviewing her grandmother Addie, asking her what events in her life made her the woman she is. Addie was born in Boston in 1900 of Russian Jewish immigrants, her father and two sisters having left Russia in 1895 to establish themselves with her mother, very reluctantly, arriving in 1900. She does not like America and in her whole life there, lets everyone in her family know it. The woman makes her own life and everybody else’s life a misery, with her constant nagging and miserable mouth. We pick up with Addie’s life in 1915 where she is in school, her father working in a belt factory and her sister Celia, in another.
Celia is a shy girl and is devoted to Addie while Betty, the eldest sister, learned English fast so she could get a job in a department store and move out on her own. The circumstances of their living is borderline poverty, they all live in one room and have no toilet as it is outside in the backyard, three stories down. The conditions are bad but it was the life of immigrants at that time. It is Addie’s dream to stay in school, she joins Salem Street Settlement, loves the library and studies and does her homework there, instead of going home. She makes friends there that last a lifetime and finds a mentor who guides her and opens up a road for Addie to walk and walk she does.
The story takes you through her life and it’s a very interesting journey. It shows the life of a girl in the early stages of independence and the obstacles she faces along the way. She eventually marries and finds a life that she truly loves. The story between her marriage and her husband’s death, is thin as it mostly deals with her journey to settled life. You will enjoy this story, it’s a look into the past that all women should be familiar with.
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