When 16-year-old Minna Losk journeys from Odessa to America as a mail-order bride, she dreams of a young, wealthy husband, a handsome townhouse, and freedom from physical labor and pogroms. But her husband Max turns out to be twice her age, rigidly Orthodox, and living in a one-room sod hut in South Dakota with his two teenage sons. The country is desolate, the work treacherous. Most troubling, Minna finds herself increasingly attracted to her older stepson. As a brutal winter closes in, the family's limits are tested, and Minna, drawing on strengths she barely knows she has, is forced to confront her despair, as well as her desire.
In this Amazon.com exclusive, Anna Solomon is interviewed by author Jenna Blum about The Little Bride, her influences, and the challenges of writing historical fiction.
Jenna Blum: Congratulations on the publication of your debut novel, The Little Bride. Most first novels are presumed to be largely autobiographical, but I like to do everything backwards, so my debut novel, Those Who Save Us, is not. (And you wouldn't believe the number of readers who are surprised when I show up at events and I'm not an 80-something German woman or a 50-something German history professor with an attitude problem.) One assumes you are not a mail-order emigrant from Odessa who homesteaded in the 19th-century Dakotas, so how did you come to write The Little Bride, and how much of it stems from your family background?
Anna Solomon: It's true, I'm not a mail-order bride. I'm not a pioneer, either. I did work as a chambermaid one summer, so maybe that covers the maidservant part? And my paternal great grandfather came from outside Odessa, so I'd always been fascinated by the City of Thieves. Some family lore makes it in to the book. But really I discovered this story accidentally. I was Googling myself--don't laugh!--when I came across another Anna Solomon, on a website called Stories Untold: Jewish Women Pioneers. And I thought, Jewish women pioneers? I started learning about them, and the mail-order brides among them, and that's how The Little Bride began.
Blum: One challenge in writing a historical novel is that one can't get into a time machine and travel back to get the hands-on details. Instead, one might rely on what one of my readers kindly referred to as "method research," i.e. craziness like, just for instance, writing while wearing a drindl skirt and one's hair in braids. What research did you undertake for The Little Bride and what inroads did it make into your waking/dreaming life?
Solomon: My "methods" are a little half-baked, I'm afraid. I mean, I did a ton of research. And I had spent time in South Dakota on a public radio assignment, which gave me a real feel for the landscape. But mostly I just sat and imagined. Sometimes I would move my hands around in the air --seeing what it might feel like it to braid grass, for instance. Also, I ate a bunch if sunflower seeds, and I touched tomato plants then went around smelling my fingers. Many of the visceral details I drew from other writers--Isaac Babel, Willa Cather--who had lived during these times, in these places. I let their senses guide me.
Blum: Your writing reminds me of so many great writers' works: Isaac Bashevis Singer, Amy Bloom, Willa Cather, Alice Munro--all rolled into one and compulsively readable! I think it's the combination of your matter-of-fact charting and acceptance of human foibles combined with the wryest humor. Not to mention a graceful turn of phase on every page. I might hate you if I didn't love you, but meanwhile, whom do you read when you want to remember how to write, and why?
Solomon: I'm blushing. Certainly the writers you mention have all influenced me, Munro perhaps the most. Recently I've fallen in love with Elizabeth Strout and I find myself opening her books for just about any reason I can make up. Others I turn to often: Lorrie Moore, for honesty and humor; Annie Proulx, for energy; Marilynne Robinson, for patience; Michael Cunningham, for structure and grace; Anton Chekhov, when I need courage.
Blum: Full disclosure: I've known you since 1998, when you took my first fiction workshop at Grub Street Writers (okay, the first fiction workshop I ever taught, unbeknownst to you--I hope!). I told you then I thought you will be a very important writer. Where do you see your career in 15 years?
Solomon: If I make as much progress as I have in the last thirteen years, I'll be very happy. It amazes me now how little I knew back in that workshop--which was my first as a student! I feel lucky to have had so many amazing teachers who have emphasized the work itself, not the publishing part. You have to do the work--the rest will follow. Mostly I hope I can keep that focus, on writing, on telling the stories I want to tell. If I can do that, then there will be more books, and hopefully readers who love them.
Blum: In addition to being in awe of your writing, I'm in awe that you managed to write The Little Bride while raising your lovely young daughter, Sylvie. How has being a mother affected you as a writer?
Solomon: You mean besides having to lug a breast pump to the Brooklyn Writers Space when I first went back to work? Being a mother has changed the logistics of my writing, certainly: I can no longer be at my desk within 15 minutes of waking, and I have less time overall. But it's also made me more efficient. I went to an artist's residency last year for two weeks and it felt like a year - I wrote fifty pages of a new novel! More importantly, motherhood has given me more perspective on, well, just about everything. Certainly it helped me understand the characters in The Little Bride in ways I couldn't have before. And writing has influenced my mothering, too. Last week, Sylvie said to me, "Mama, can we stay on the swings for just one more page?" And I thought, ah, it's rubbing off.
Anna Solomon photo by Nina Subin
“This is a very intensely imagined book, an elegantly written pocket of forgotten history.”—Audrey Niffenegger, author of the New York Times–bestselling The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry
“Evocative of Alice Munro, Amy Bloom, and Willa Cather, but fueled by Anna Solomon’s singular imagination, The Little Bride is a masterful debut. This tale of a Jewish mail-order bride’s homestead experience on the Great Plains is embroidered with sage, beautiful writing on every page and marks the start of a long, fine, and important career.”—Jenna Blum, author of Those Who Save Us
“The Little Bride is a love story. An immigrant’s story. But most important: a story of hope and courage in the face of overwhelming odds. Anna Solomon has written a heart-wrenchingly good novel, with vivid characters and an epic frontier landscape that will haunt you long after you've turned the final page.”—Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief
“Anna Solomon has created a singular heroine whose story of dashed dreams and eventual triumph is a wise and timeless wonder. Intense and gorgeous, The Little Bride gives us an unparalleled snapshot of the West.”—Jennifer Gilmore, author of Golden Country and Something Red
“A lush, gorgeous first novel. Immerse yourself in its world.”—Irina Reyn, author of What Happened to Anna K.
“An affecting tale of 19th century Jewish settlers who find their America not on the noisy streets of the Lower East Side, but on the boundless, desolate Dakota Plains. A stirring love story and an unsettling, original portrait of the New World.”—Sana Krasikov, author of One More Year
I borrowed this book through my library and hardly read 10% of it. Had explicit thoughts to it, that just didn't go away and decided that it was enough for me. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Joan M. Poole
My Temple Sisterhood just discussed this book today. The moderator had seen a very favorable review and suggested the title because this year's theme is "immigration". Read morePublished 4 months ago by Felice Feldman
This author is brilliant, bringing much realism to the plight of the Jewish immigrant, so often over romanticized. This is not a light and easy read, as the title might suggest. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Sue Steinberg
you may be tempted to give up at first because it's a slow start, but stay with it and you will be rewarded in the end. Read morePublished 10 months ago by email@example.com
I just did not enjoy reading this book and could not even finish it! No matter how hard I tried the book sent me into a state of boredom and agitation. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Heidi
Never read this author before. I will look for more of her books. This one is a good read. The ending seems a little forced and rushed, but otherwise very enjoyable.Published 11 months ago by Mara J Gordon
this book was amazing. it is about growth and empowerment, the will to persevere and finding yourself. it was a really good read. Read morePublished 22 months ago by Amazon Customer
IT'S A VERY INFORMATIVE BOOK, LITTLE THINGS, OTHER BOOKS DON'T MENTION,,,,,IT'S A GOOD READ FOR A NICE RAINY DAY, THINK YOU'LL ENJOY ITPublished 23 months ago by Carol Ann Toth
My book club read the book and I did not l could not get by the poverty and how she was abused by other people.Published 23 months ago by Annette Schley