When the Old West Was New

Donna Rifkind reviews The German Bride by Joanna Hershon, in the Washington Post:

Screenhunter_03_may_31_1627Joanna Hershon’s sinuous new novel roams away from the milieu of her two previous books, which were modern family dramas, into the territories of historical fiction and immigration literature. Hershon spins the tale of a German Jewish woman named Eva Frank who, after a hasty marriage in 1865, leaves her wealthy father’s mansion in Berlin to pursue a new life among the “low mud-cake hovels” of the American West. Accompanied by her husband, Eva journeys across the ocean and then across the United States to set up housekeeping in Santa Fe, a makeshift, dirty, danger-ridden settlement that was just beginning to organize itself into a town.

While Eva’s transformation from pampered European cosmopolite to Wild West frontierswoman might sound outlandish, her story is, as a matter of historical fact, not all that unusual. Hershon makes clear in the novel’s “Note on Sources” that she has done research showing that a significant number of European Jews participated in the American westward migration and pioneer life of the 19th century. The most famous of these immigrants — including Levi Strauss (from Bavaria) and Mike Goldwater (from Poland) — made enormous fortunes as boomtown entrepreneurs in California and Arizona. Others settled with their families and flourished in Western frontier towns just as enthusiastically, if not quite as spectacular…

…To the many expressions of this threshold experience in American immigration literature, by authors from Anzia Yezerskia to Jhumpa Lahiri, Hershon adds an eloquent voice.

More here.  Joanna Hershon’s own website is here, where you can read other reviews, interviews, and more.