Arts and Culture

Haunting novel spins untold tale of Jewish pioneers

Anna Solomon’s debut novel, “The Little Bride,” opens with Minna Losk, a poor Jewish girl in Odessa, submitting to a humiliating examination in order to immigrate to the United States as a mail-order bride. The scene is so powerfully written, I was instantly captivated, avid to learn more of Minna’s fate.

The inspiration for “The Little Bride,” published by Riverhead Books, “is a little embarrassing, actually,” says the author. “I was Googling myself one day when I came across another Anna Solomon, an Anna Solomon Freudenthal who was featured on a wonderful website called ‘Stories Untold: Jewish Women Pioneers.’”

Fascinated, Solomon, a former National Public Radio reporter, began researching, eventually spinning the tale of 16-year-old Minna, who thinks she is leaving behind her life as a maidservant to become a fashionable society woman in New York. But when she arrives at Castle Garden in New York after a wretched journey in steerage, Minna learns that her husband-to-be, more than twice her age, is a rigidly Orthodox, nearly penniless would-be farmer trying to scratch out a living on the prairie. Instead of a grand house, her new home in South Dakota is a one-room sod hut she must share with her new husband and his two teenage sons, one of whom she finds disturbingly attractive.

Solomon has been compared to Alice Munro, Amy Bloom and Willa Cather, and I found “The Little Bride” reminiscent of the Sarah Agnes Prine novels by Tucsonan Nancy E. Turner, herself a finalist for a Willa Cather Award for “These Is My Words.” Drawing on a little-known aspect of Jewish American history, “The Little Bride” is a beautifully written, haunting story.