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The Tin Horse: A Novel Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (January 29, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679643745
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679643746
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (123 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,463 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

A Letter from Author Janice Steinberg

I recently encountered the appealing idea of "watershed books"--books that get you through a rough time. In a study in Britain, people said they chose classics like Pride and Prejudice and One Hundred Years of Solitude. My watersheds were also classics--the noir mystery novels of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, which I read out of a desire to identify with tough, fearless protagonists.

Alas, reading noir fiction did not make me tough. Among the hard-boiled men and fast women, there was just one, very marginal character with whom I felt a kinship: an unnamed woman in Chandler's The Big Sleep. Philip Marlowe, the detective, wants information about a sleazy Hollywood bookseller. He enters a legitimate bookstore and flashes a badge at the woman working there, and she and Marlowe engage in crisp intellectual parrying, in which she gives as good as she gets.

The woman is reading a law book, which is intriguing in itself in a novel published in 1939. And she's described as having "the fine-drawn face of an intelligent Jewess," a phrase that struck me with its profound sense of otherness, as if she lived in a very different Los Angeles than Marlowe. And I felt hungry to know more about this nameless woman. What was her story? What was her Los Angeles?

Like many novelists, I love doing research, and I began by exploring the second question: what was her Los Angeles? I discovered Boyle Heights, a neighborhood east of downtown that, in the 1920s and 30s, was the Jewish part of L.A. As I was researching, I started hearing the woman's voice in my mind--not as the young woman in the bookstore but as a vibrant, opinionated octogenarian. She was talking to a young person--an archivist? So she'd had a life, perhaps related to the law book she was reading, that merited archiving. And I gave her a name: Elaine Greenstein.

Then came the difficult question: what was her story? I'm an outliner by nature. I like to know where I'm going. But Elaine's story resisted my attempts to lay it out in advance. And if that pushed me into a disorienting limbo, it was also liberating. When I started writing about Elaine's childhood, what came out first was her grandfather's story. I discovered that she lived within a fabric of stories, some of dubious veracity, and ultimately that led to the idea at the core of the book: that we construct our reality and give meaning to our lives by the stories we tell--and believe--about ourselves. In a sense, they're our personal watersheds.

From Booklist

A pioneering attorney who fought for civil and women’s rights, Elaine, widowed and in her eighties, has enlisted the help of a young, eager archivist as she organizes her papers before donating them to the University of Southern California. Much to her consternation, Josh turns up evidence of the deep chasm in her life, the long-ago disappearance of her twin sister. Steinberg, an arts journalist and mystery writer, wings us back to the sisters’ Los Angeles childhood as daughters of anxious Jewish refugees from Hitler’s genocide. As she tells the very different stories of Elaine the brain and Barbara the beauty and their catastrophic love for the same tough, passionate boy, Zionist Danny, Steinberg also slowly reveals the secrets of their mother (“a genius at playing cards”) and daring Aunt Pearl. Though plainly told, even procedural in tone, Steinberg’s quietly suspenseful novel is compelling by virtue of her sympathetic characters, vivid depiction of WWII-era Los Angeles, and pinpoint illuminations of poverty, anti-Semitism, family bonds and betrayals, and the crushing obstacles facing women seeking full and fulfilling lives. --Donna Seaman

More About the Author

The Official Story
Janice Steinberg is the author of The Tin Horse, published by Random House in Jan. 2013. She has also authored five mystery novels, including the Shamus Award-nominated Death in a City of Mystics. An award-winning arts journalist, she has published more than 400 articles in The San Diego Union-Tribune, Dance Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. She has taught novel writing at the University of California, San Diego extension, and dance criticism at San Diego State University. A native of Wisconsin, she received a B.A. and M.A. from the University of California, Irvine. She lives in San Diego with her husband.

The Version over a Cup of Tea
I grew up in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, which is less bucolic than it sounds; it's a suburb of Milwaukee. Whitefish Bay is nonetheless charming. It's right on Lake Michigan. Quiet streets, glorious autumns. One of my earliest memories is of standing with my mother in a cozy brick building that was at one time the public library. I think the cozy building later became the police department, which does give Whitefish Bay a sort of Mayberry vibe.

During college, I became a Californian. I got a B.A. and M.A. at the University of California-Irvine, and that's where met my husband, Jack Cassidy. We spent a couple of years in Los Angeles and now live in San Diego. There was also a brief detour to Colorado, but we missed California so much that we took to watching "Starsky and Hutch" reruns for glimpses of L.A. "Look, there's Lincoln Boulevard!" If you know Lincoln Boulevard in Venice, you know it is not renowned for its beauty. We were really homesick.

Like many people who need to write the same way they need to breathe, I've had a pastiche of jobs: urban planning, public relations, grant writing, journalism, editing, and teaching. For several years, I freelanced for Advertising Age, where I was known as Queen of the Sidebar. After paying lots of dues, I've been able to focus on work that I love: fiction writing and arts journalism. I also hold a Blue Belt in the Nia dance-fitness form and teach regular classes.

Customer Reviews

This story is well written and well developed.
Marcie Fraade
"The Tin Horse" by Janice Steinberg is a deep dive into what it was like growing up Jewish in Los Angeles in the '30s.
Meg Bortin
Reading this book was a satisfying emotional voyage through time and story.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Anne Marie on January 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I loved this novel by Janice Steinberg. It's a beautifully written story of two very different sisters, and how their lives diverged, one maintaining her ties to their Jewish immigrant family and accomplishing great things as a trailblazing lawyer, the other -- well, you'll have to read "The Tin Horse" to see what happened to that adventurer. This multigenerational family saga is set in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights, a center of Jewish life during the 30s and 40s. Steinberg's ear for this vanished culture feels unerring, and her novel revolves around a female character, Elaine Greenstein, you're unlikely to forget. Highly Recommended.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By S. Mayfield on February 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I read The Tin Horse twice: the first time to bolt through the fast-moving story and the second to let myself cozy up into the novel's nooks and crannies. It was that second time that I got the pleasure of both taking another look at the storyline, and of turning up places with the deeper-running threads and themes that make for truly great reading.

This novel rooted in the Jewish community of Boyle Heights in the early part of the last century takes a fresh look at the humor, wonder and, sometimes, heartbreak of the American immigrant experience. It's also an unconventional detective story told by feisty, no-nonsense Elaine Greenstein, who appears as a minor figure in Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. The author rescues the barely-sketched face from the noir-ness and completes the portrait to dazzling effect in Elaine.

I loved meeting up with such a memorable narrator: the kind of woman who manages both to surprise you and to make you feel you know her profoundly. California history, an engaging mystery, and a poignant, personal story all came together to make this book a captivating ride from beginning to end...times two.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mr. August VINE VOICE on March 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Janice Steinberg starts this novel with a bang. She provides us with the time, pre World War II and the place is Boyle Heights, a noticeably Jewish neighborhood in southern Los Angeles. I instantly became engrossed in the family, the young father (Papa) and his four daughters.

The narrator is Elaine, a fraternal twin, a successful attorney, widow and a grandmother, who is preparing her collection of documents for USC when she finds a business card from detective. Philip Marlowe, (famous fictional detective), who had established a working relationship with Elaine. The gist of the novel is the estrangement of Elaine's fraternal twin, Barbara, 65 years ago. She walked out on the family as a very young woman leaving grieving parents, sisters and aunts. So no one knows why she left; Elaine has a few ideas but is wracked with guilt and pathos about her sister.

Steinberg's strength is history. She expertly interfaced the times, the Jewish persecution, Zionism and fervent commitments with the story of this family. The Jewish immigrants entering America were often treated poorly by their own relatives, despite the monetary and emotional efforts to remove them from the torment in Europe. In this particular story, the mother, Charlotte, arrives from Romania, marries, has four daughters and becomes somewhat of a shrew. She is not an easy woman and freely doles out guilt. One of the male characters, Danny, is artfully portrayed as an American Jew who is an extreme promoter of the Palestinian state. Danny also has relationships with both Barbara and Elaine.

The dynamics of the family are front and center and confounded with arguments, jealousy and aspirations.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Joan B. Green on February 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The Tin Horse" totally hooked me. Spanning decades, it portrays a family in times and places as varied as Europe in the war years, LA during the Great Depression, and the US in the current day. Steinberg has created a historically accurate saga, delightfully punctuated with cameo appearances by a well-known fictional detective. The characters were completely engaging.

This book is a rich, wonderful mystery. I picked it up after dinner (just to take a quick look), grudgingly put it down for a few hours of sleep, then restarted before breakfast! What a satisfying read!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Abigail Padgett on February 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
How do we know who we are? For some, family and culture provide a comfortable path to identity. For others that path can be a prison, and escape at any cost a desperate necessity. The Tin Horse, narrated by octogenarian Elaine Greenstein, traces the history of a complex and interesting family through several generations, from Romania to the now-vanished Jewish enclave of Boyle Heights in Los Angeles County. Elaine, intriguingly based on a cameo character in Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, finds a provocative note in a box of her long-dead mother's things. It's just an address, but it triggers a cascade of memories and a determination to solve the sixty-year-old mystery that has shadowed Elaine all her life - the sudden disappearance at eighteen of her twin sister, Barbara.
Scrupulously researched and characterized by evocative settings and penetrating insights into a half-forgotten time, The Tin Horse is a thought-provoking and delightful read!
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