Riverhead, 2011. ISBN 978-1-594-48535-0.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 10/09/2011
The Little Bride, a novel based upon historical truth, is about a time when immigrants were pouring into America. Minna, like so many other immigrants, came from poverty and persecution. She suffered through the ship's journey in steerage and did not find the imagined luxury when she arrived. Instead, Minna found herself on a train to "Sodokota," on her way to meet her future husband Max. He has signed with the Am Olam movement, which sent immigrant Jews to farm in hard scrabble land.
Minna hardened her heart in order to survive and looked at life through pragmatic and sometimes cold eyes, all the while tending to her duty as a young wife and stepmother of teen aged sons. Feelings, even passion, force their way through her tight control. Minna's dilemma is exacerbated by the customs of a rigidly religious husband who will only eat meat butchered ritually by a qualified butcher and who will not harvest their pitiful crop on the Sabbath even when not harvesting means no crop at all.
There were no roads, few neighbors and only blazing heat or bone-chilling cold. Solomon's description of the vast open prairie and the harsh, killing winter rings with authenticity. A sample of winter: "Eventually, the paths cut through snow taller than their heads. They went from the house to the chickens to the barn to the privy hole to the cellar to the coal bin to the house and that was all, just walls of snow and the driest air you could imagine, so dry you might walk with a fistful of snow in your mouth, breathing through your nose the ghost scents of urine on hay and human waste in snow and coal smoke frying the air."
The graphic opening scene in which Minna is inspected as an animal or a slave to see if she qualifies as a mail-order bride sent chills down my spine. It is the beginning of disappointment upon disappointment. Yet Solomon creates a strong, determined heroine who survives, then, finally thrives.
Solomon's writing is fine and realistic. Here is a gripping story that will not easily be forgotten.
Anna Solomon received her MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine and more and has twice been awareded a Pushcart Prize. She is working on a new novel. Visit her website.
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