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The Little Bride: A Novel Paperback – September 6, 2011
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Inspired by the little-known real history of the Jewish settlement of the Great Plains, The Little Bride is an elegantly written tale of a sixteen-year-old Russian mail-order bride stranded on the South Dakota prairie, married to a man twice her age, and falling increasingly in love with her nineteen-year-old stepson.
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"The Little Bride" is not one of those books. It stands alone. Minna, 16, leaves Odessa as a mail order bride, not a plucky, flawless young woman. She lands not in the East Side but in South Dakota, belonging to a groom over twice her age. Moreover, she is expected to be mother to his sons, one of whom is her own age and attractive. She finds no dream house or fashionable wardrobe, but the plainest the Plains have to offer. Anna Solomon gives us not the ideal heroine, but one more fully human. At times, you don't like her. Her story unfolds in totally unexpected directions, surprising you all the way.
Solomon's language is lean and poetic. We may call something "unexamined";she calls it "unquarried." Her images of grass and fists expand ours. A wonderful book, refreshingly new in voice. I read it at night, losing sleep, yet was sorry to see it end.
At that point, "The Little Bride" becomes the story of a life as bleak as any painted in Charles Dickens's London. Life in an underground "soddy" for a home, with a husband, a stiff practitioner of Orthodox Jewry so rigid he lets his farm fail rather than take time from his prayers and religious rituals. Here, too, Minna meets the same madness of anti-Semitism that she had known in Odessa.
Author Solomon tells a noire tale of cruelty and the lack of concern for the very young bride, and the awkward relationship she has with her stepsons only a few years older than she, but who try to manage the farm despite the arrogance of their father who will not learn or do the labor that farming demands.
Because of the father's indolence, surviving on the kindness of neighbors, this new family she has joined lives minute by minute at the point of sheer starvation and privation of clothing as well as the elements.
While "The Little Bride" presents a devastating description of the hard scrabble existence of the American far west, and the foolishness of ignorant settlers who would move there without knowledge or ambition enough to make this rich land produce. In addition, no positive aspects of that breathtaking countryside are noted.
"The Little Bride" allows the reader an opportunity to consider the great hardship connected with hewing a farm out of the wilderness. The book's greatest lack lies in its characters' cardboard presentation. No one ever changes or has anything but a single aspect, good or bad. We see a middle-aged man who invites a girl to come to an unknown world and prepares nothing for her comfort, indeed, leaves their well-being up to his sons who are not much older than his new bride. Still, "The Little Bride" is worth reading perhaps for the first time to consider the enormous challenges our forefathers undertook to settle what has become the United States. In watching this story unfold one cannot avoid disliking those who must have come expecting the land to produce without human effort.
Hot Toasty Rag, May 16, 2017
Anna Solomon is an excellent writer; this is evident from the first page. A teenage girl is being examined by a doctor, to make sure she is healthy and fit to be transported to America as a mail-order bride. She makes the incredibly difficult journey, and is immediately disappointed. Her husband is twice her age and has two teenaged sons that live with him. He is cold to her, and his extremely Orthodox Judaism often causes arguments between them.
This book is not for the faint of heart. It is gritty and realistic almost to a fault. She writes of subjects most people don’t like to read, such as abuse, extremely unpleasant sex, a medical examination of her lady parts and bottom, the horrors of traveling by boat to America—what people eat to survive and how their bowels react to the journey— and how extreme weather patterns in the Great Plains impact everyday life and the quest for survival.
If you can get past the cringe-worthy descriptions of death, various bodily functions, sex, and life on the prairie, there is one other obstacle to overcome: an unlikable heroine. With all she must endure, it seems impossible not to root for her. However she managed it, Solomon wrote a character with little more than survival as her defining characteristic. She is not kind, intelligent, caring, ambitious, thoughtful, humble, or selfless. Now, if you can get past those two faults, you’ll be able to appreciate an extremely well written historical novel. Solomon has an incredible talent and vast historical knowledge; I’d love to see her write something akin to a James Michener epic.