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January 2011: Book of the Month


The Little Bride by Anna Solomon

Summary
Immerse yourself in the life of 16-year-old Minna Losk, an orphaned, Jewish girl living in Odessa in the late 19th century. Impoverished and working as a maidservant, Minna fantasizes about starting over in America on the arm of a wealthy American man, living in a lovely home. Selling herself as a mail-order bride, Minna finds herself instead in a small, desolate sod home on the South Dakota prairie, married to a bitter, widowed, rigidly Orthodox man, the father of two teenage sons, and part of the Am Olam homesteading movement. Amidst her struggles to adapt to her new roles as wife, stepmother, and homesteader, and her failed attempts at having a child of her own, she finds herself attracted to the eldest of her husband’s sons. Living a life that is arduous and bleak, Minna matures out of necessity, drawing on strengths she barely knows she has, and ultimately manages to uncover hope for the future

 

About the Author
The Little Bride is Anna Solomon’s first novel. She received her undergraduate degree at Brown University, and her M.F.A. from Iowa’s Writers Workshop. Previously, Anna worked as a journalist for National Public Radio's Living On Earth, where she reported and produced award-winning stories about the impact of environmental policy. She went on to teach writing at Manhattanville College. Her stories have appeared in the Harvard Review, the New York Times magazine and other publications. Solomon received the Pushcart Prize on two separate occasions, and has been nominated for a National Magazine Award. Learn more about Anna Solomon and The Little Bride on her website.

Interested in having Anna Solomon visit your Book Club in person or by phone? Contact Anna for a chance to learn first-hand about Solomon's life and inspiration!


Questions for Thought and Discussion
Before Minna was finally sent on her way to America, she was offered a German passport; an identity that would free her from oppression in Europe as a Jew. Minna rejected the offer. Do you feel it would have compromised her integrity to take the offer for a better life? Was selling herself to an American as a bride a more moral option?

 Prior to reading The Little Bride, had you heard about Jewish women as mail-order brides? Was the practice a necessary evil for the building of Jewish communities in America at this time?

Are you aware that today mail-order brides are considered in some cases a kind of human trafficking? To find a report on this subject from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, go to the American Immigration Lawyers Association website.

Find more discussion questions on the Penguin Books website.  

While Minna’s story may be a piece of historical fiction, there are works of non-fiction about this lifestyle as well. The story of Rachel Calof, a true Jewish homesteader, is available through her memoir, Rachel Calof’s Story: Jewish Homesteader on the North Plain, as well as a play which has been adapted and made into a musical in tribute to her life. See the play or read her memoir, and compare Minna’s experiences to those of Calof.

Activities
Much of Minna’s life on the Prairie revolved around preparing meals for her new family using the limited food options available, mainly eggs and a few vegetables. In honor of this effort, try making Omelet Piperade, and discuss what it was like to be a woman responsible for running a home in a time before food was readily available and labor-saving devices for women were non-existent.

Links & Recommendations
To learn more about Anna and her relationship to Judaism, read an article by Josh Rolnick, entitled “Is My Book Jewish? An Afternoon with Anna Solomon.” A friend of Solomon’s from Iowa’s Writers Workshop, Rolnick explains his take on her work in relation to her life experiences.

An insightful article by Solomon posted at kveller.com portrays Solomon as estranged from the more religious aspects of Judaism. However, her experience as a mom leads her down a path of questioning just how “Jewish” to raise her young daughter—who loves Jewish rituals and belts out the Shabbat blessings—and what path to follow for herself as well.

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