Tag Archives: Immigrants

Book Buzz: The Dressmaker’s Dowry

Book Buzz: The Dressmaker's Dowry

As a first-time novelist writing historical fiction, I have a newfound appreciation for writers who excel at that genre. It is no mean feat to capture the time period authentically in every way: with dialogue, clothing, scenery, etc. I can tell you that Meredith Jaeger does that quite successfully in The Dressmaker’s Dowry, her debut novel about two women separated by 140 years.

Book Buzz: The Dressmaker's Dowry

The Dressmaker’s Dowry

Set in San Francisco and alternating in time between the present day and in the mid-1800s, The Dressmaker’s Dowry features modern day Sarah, a writer fascinated with an unsolved mystery and Hannelore, an immigrant dressmaker who disappeared from the gritty San Francisco streets.

The setting for Hannelore’s story is rich with sensory detail: the acrid stench in the gutters, the clatter of horse carriages careening down the rutted streets, the foreboding sense of danger around every corner.

Hannelore and her friend Margaret are seamstresses in an exclusive dress shop that services the wealthy matrons of the city. They both have younger siblings whom they struggle to provide for. Their home lives are dark and perilous, and they lean on each other for comfort.

One day a man from a privileged family enters the shop and strikes up a conversation with Hannelore, and her life takes an unexpected turn. But the very next morning Margaret has gone missing, sparking fear and a frenzied search. And later, Hannelore disappears as well.

Sarah’s story takes place in her beautiful Marina apartment overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Coming from a modest background and married into a socially prominent San Francisco family, Sara withholds a secret from her past that she feels could destroy her marriage. She is struggling to complete a novel and then discovers a headline from 1876: Missing Dressmakers Believed to Be Murdered. Instantly intrigued, she puts the novel aside and puts on her journalist’s hat, determined to tell the story of these two women from generations ago. She becomes engrossed in the mystery and temporarily puts her insecurities on hold.

In the process of her investigation, she stumbles upon a shocking fact: she and Hannelore may be linked in ways she could have never expected. What is the connection, and will Hannelore’s disappearance ever be solved?

This is a riveting story, full of suspense and drama. As a fan of historical fiction, I love all the research that went into The Dressmaker’s Dowry, especially about the lives of the immigrants who came to San Francisco in search for a better life and endured so much hardship. The photos at the end of the book are a nice touch as well, giving the reader a visual bonus to the satisfying conclusion of the story.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of The Dressmaker’s Dowry. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be chosen randomly. USA addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of The Dressmaker’s Dowry from William Morrow for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

 

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Book Buzz: Leaving Lucy Pear

I love historical literary fiction, especially when it teaches me something new. The luminous Leaving Lucy Pear is a novel so rich in sensory images that I found myself transported to a time and place I knew little about and felt instantly connected.

Book Buzz: Leaving Lucy Pear

Leaving Lucy Pear

Author Anna Solomon takes us to 1920s Prohibition-era Gloucester, New England, eschewing the glamor of that period for the dark side: the rampant racism and bigotry. The economic instability, political turmoil, the poverty, the violence.

Against this backdrop lives the eponymous Lucy Pear, the daughter of two women. Born to Beatrice, the unwed teenage daughter of a wealthy Jewish family, Lucy Pear is abandoned by her mother in the family’s pear orchard. It is the season when Irish trespassers steal the ripening pears to make bootleg moonshine.

Ashamed to keep the baby, and unwilling to surrender her to an orphanage, Beatrice sneaks out late one night clutching the blanket-wrapped baby and sets her under a tree. The plan works as the thieves discover the baby and whisk her away. Emma, an Irish Catholic immigrant already the mother of a large brood, becomes Lucy’s new mother.

For the next 10 years, the two families intersect in various ways, but the truth of Lucy’s parentage remains hidden. Lucy, a bold and instinctive child, senses there is information being withheld from her. At the same time, she holds on to disturbing secrets of her own.

Solomon uses two historical events that speak volumes in illustrating the bigotry of the time. There was the infamous case of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian-American anarchists who were arrested, imprisoned for seven years, and finally executed for a murder in spite of any solid evidence implicating them.

There was also the “secret court” at Harvard, a witch hunt to expose and then expel homosexual students.

The contrasts in the novel are many:  Jewish and Irish, the haves and the have nots, the fecund and the barren, heterosexual and homosexual, yet implicit in all of them are restrictions of the freedom we often take for granted today.

But the most heartrending contrast is between two women from different classes and places in society, of different temperaments and beliefs, who are bound together forever through their love for a child.

Bookended by the turn-of-the-century influx of European immigrants and the rumblings of World War II, the setting of Leaving Lucy Pear is one of the most absorbing features of the novel.

Solomon is an exquisite writer and skillfully weaves together multi-dimensional characters with a plot that is never predictable. You know when you can’t stop thinking about the characters?

That’s the sign of a great book.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Leaving Lucy Pear. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

I received a copy of Leaving Lucy Pear from Viking for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

If you like my blog post, please share it!
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