BOOK CLUBSI support book groups! If you choose The Little Bride for your group, I would be happy to visit (if possible) or call-in for an author Q&A.
—Audrey Niffenegger, New York Times bestselling author of The Time Traveler’s Wife
in its world.”
—Irina Reyn, author of What Happened to Anna K.
WANT TO LEARN MORE?Stories Untold: Jewish Women Pioneers: a wonderful website featuring the quilts of artist Andrea Kalinowski and first-hand accounts from the women themselves.
The Alliance Jewish Farming Colony, Past and Present: a fascinating collection of information and reminiscences from a long-survived Am Olam community
Sod Jerusalems: an entertaining history of Jewish farming colonies on the Kansas frontier
Yiddish Book Center: a great resource for all things Yiddish
The Story behind The Little Bride
The Little Bride may be set in the 1880s, but it began in the most contemporary of ways. I was Googling myself one day – yes, I admit it – when I came upon another Anna Solomon who was featured on this great little website called “Stories Untold: Jewish Women Pioneers.” I thought, Jewish women pioneers? Jewish women driving wagons, roping cattle? I’d never heard of such a thing. I started researching these women, trying to find out how and why they came to live in the American West. Some had come with their husbands and families, but some had come to America as mail-order brides, having little to no idea of what they were getting into – and one of these, Rachel Bella Calof, had written her story. When I came to a passage in which she describes the “Look” she was given back in Russia – that is, the examination one had to undergo before becoming a bride – when I read her words, “They inspected me like a horse,” well, I shuddered. But I also knew I’d found a story I needed to write. And my book begins there, as my protagonist, Minna Losk, endures her own Look in a basement in Odessa before she’s sent to America as a mail-order bride.
At its heart, The Little Bride is a story about Minna’s coming of age. It’s about her longing for family, and her struggle between duty and desire. It’s a love story. But it’s also set against the real historical backdrop of the Am Olam movement, a little known Jewish-American experiment in the 1880s and 90s in which wealthier, assimilated Jews decided to “help” the poorer immigrants who were flooding many cities at that time by giving them the money and tools they needed to head West. This scenario fascinated me. I grew up as one of the only Jews in my New England hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts, and I’ve always been drawn to stories about people living in places where they don’t seem to belong. I loved researching and imagining the challenges these Jewish pioneer women faced. Their families hadn’t been allowed to own land back in Europe; how were they going to survive as farmers? How would they keep kosher? How would they take their ritual mikvah baths – or would they? And for Minna, who’s spent most of her young life feeling like an outsider, how would she find a way to belong?
It’s a question we all face, at one time or another, whether we have left our country, our childhood home, or simply our block. And it’s this experience – the discomfort, the fear, the possibility, the hope of being a stranger in a strange land – that I got to explore as I wrote The Little Bride. It felt like a gift, spending that time with Minna as she made her slow way toward knowing other people, and letting them know her. And now it feels like a gift to watch the book make its own way into readers’ minds and hearts. Thank you for reading.