Summary: Berlin, 1865. Eva Frank, the daughter of a benevolent Jewish banker, and her sister, Henriette, are having their portrait painted–which leads to a secret affair between young Eva and the mercurial artist. This indiscretion has far-reaching consequences, more devastating than Eva or her family could have imagined. Distraught and desperate to escape her painful situation, Eva hastily marries Abraham Shein, an ambitious merchant who has returned home to Germany for the first time in a decade since establishing himself in the American West. The eighteen-year-old bride leaves Berlin and its ghosts for an unfamiliar life halfway across the world, traversing the icy waters of the Atlantic and the rugged, sweeping terrain of the Santa Fe Trail.
Though Eva’s existence in the rough and burgeoning community of Sante Fe, New Mexico, is a far cry from her life as a daughter of privilege, she soon begins to settle into the mystifying town, determined to create a home. But this new setting cannot keep at bay the overwhelming memories of her former life, nor can it protect her from an increasing threat to her own safety that will force Eva to make a fateful decision.
Joanna Hershon’s novel is a gripping and gritty portrayal of urban European immigrants struggling with New World frontier life in the mid-nineteenth century. Vivid and emotionally compelling, The German Bride is also a beautiful narrative on how far one must travel to make peace with the past. -- Ballantine Books
I'm not even sure how I'm going to express my feelings about THE GERMAN BRIDE by Joanna Hershon. I thought this book was an amazing read, and I recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction! This book was very moving and it touched me deeply. Not only did I find the story very interesting, but I also loved Ms. Hershon's writing style. She's just such a gifted writer.
I had read another book by Ms. Herson a few years ago called SWIMMING, and I remembered that I really enjoyed the story and her writing. When I heard that she had a new book out, I couldn't wait to read it! Like SWIMMING, this book deals the themes of sibling love and loss; however, the similarities end there (except for beautiful prose!) THE GERMAN BRIDE tells the story of a young German Jewish girl who moves to late 1800s New Mexico with her new husband.
I thought the storyline of THE GERMAN BRIDE was so unique. It was a story of how Eva, a young immigrant woman must adapt to her new life in the United States. I loved how the reader learned about Santa Fe life through the eyes of a woman -- what a different perspective from most books about the Old West. Eva was such a well developed character (she's one of those characters that will stay in your mind after finishing the book.) She is faced with so many difficulties -- losing her sister and blaming herself, having multiple miscarriages, living in a mud hut with no working stove, being married to an unfaithful husband who gambles; yet she is above all, a woman will resilience -- a survivor.
If you haven't read a book by Joanna Hershon, you really should. I think she is just a fantastic writer. It's apparent that she did a tremendous amount of research before writing THE GERMAN BRIDE because the descriptions of Old West life seem very real. Her prose is just incredible -- here's one of my favorite lines in the entire book which appears towards the end on page 286: "A fellow traveler told me that a cottonwood tree grows along the banks of the Mississippi River, and when the river swells with spring rains, it sometimes carries away part of it riverbank and a tall tree falls into its current. The spirit of this tree can be heard crying and crying as its roots cling to the soil and its trunk floats on the water. I feel like that floating trunk...those clinging roots -- nothing but a watery and divided ghost." There are many other lines that I could have put in here too that are just as beautiful as this one, but I thought this explained Eva so well.
This should be a book club selection for many book clubs this summer and fall! Of course, it's obvious by now that I loved the story and how it reads; but I also think that there is so many themes and so much symbolism in these 300+ pages. To me, THE GERMAN BRIDE is ultimately about redemption -- Eva has to come to terms with her past and forgive herself while also beginning a new life. Other recurring themes to think about are: survival, isolation, guilt, loss, love and forgiveness. I haven't been able to locate any discussion questions yet, but as soon as I find them I will set up a link.
Make sure you come back tomorrow because I will be posting an interview with the author of THE GERMAN BRIDE - Joanna Hershon. I'm hoping this will give you even more insight into this wonderful novel.