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Beyond the Pale

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Beyond the Pale — winner of the Lambda Literary Award — tells the stories of two Jewish women living through times of darkness and inhumanity in the early 20th century, capturing their undaunted love and courage in luminous and moving prose. The richly textured novel details Gutke Gurvich’s odyssey from her apprenticeship as a midwife in a Russian shtetl to her work in the Beyond the Pale — winner of the Lambda Literary Award — tells the stories of two Jewish women living through times of darkness and inhumanity in the early 20th century, capturing their undaunted love and courage in luminous and moving prose. The richly textured novel details Gutke Gurvich’s odyssey from her apprenticeship as a midwife in a Russian shtetl to her work in the suffrage movement in New York. Interwoven with her tale is that Chava Meyer, who was attended by Gurvich at her birth and grew up to survive the pogrom that took the lives of her parents. Throughout the book, historical background plays a large part: Jewish faith and traditions, the practice of midwifery, the horrific conditions in prerevolutionary Russia and New York sweatshops, and the determined work of labor unionists and suffragists.


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Beyond the Pale — winner of the Lambda Literary Award — tells the stories of two Jewish women living through times of darkness and inhumanity in the early 20th century, capturing their undaunted love and courage in luminous and moving prose. The richly textured novel details Gutke Gurvich’s odyssey from her apprenticeship as a midwife in a Russian shtetl to her work in the Beyond the Pale — winner of the Lambda Literary Award — tells the stories of two Jewish women living through times of darkness and inhumanity in the early 20th century, capturing their undaunted love and courage in luminous and moving prose. The richly textured novel details Gutke Gurvich’s odyssey from her apprenticeship as a midwife in a Russian shtetl to her work in the suffrage movement in New York. Interwoven with her tale is that Chava Meyer, who was attended by Gurvich at her birth and grew up to survive the pogrom that took the lives of her parents. Throughout the book, historical background plays a large part: Jewish faith and traditions, the practice of midwifery, the horrific conditions in prerevolutionary Russia and New York sweatshops, and the determined work of labor unionists and suffragists.

30 review for Beyond the Pale

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ali

    My mom bought me this book and claimed she did not know it was about lesbians. Um, check out the author's last name… My mom bought me this book and claimed she did not know it was about lesbians. Um, check out the author's last name…

  2. 5 out of 5

    Eva

    I thought this was a lesbian romance novel but it's not. It's a beautiful and heart-wrenching novel that describes the life journey of jewish lesbian women at the turning of the 20th century. The fact that the women happen to be lesbians is a beautiful secondary layer to the story. The main focus of te author is to describe the rampant and generalised anti-semitism, sexism, racism and classism that existed at the time both in EU and the US. It is a great novel and a beautiful surprise. I thought this was a lesbian romance novel but it's not. It's a beautiful and heart-wrenching novel that describes the life journey of jewish lesbian women at the turning of the 20th century. The fact that the women happen to be lesbians is a beautiful secondary layer to the story. The main focus of te author is to describe the rampant and generalised anti-semitism, sexism, racism and classism that existed at the time both in EU and the US. It is a great novel and a beautiful surprise.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Booktart

    A great and unique story -- you don't often find a novel about Russian Jewish immigrant lesbian women (with some magical realism thrown in). The shifts in point of view felt awkward and confusing at times and it felt at times like the author tried to throw too many historical facts into the book (Triangle Shirtwaist, mention of the Bintel Briefs, Lillian Wald, etc.). However, as the descendant of Russian/Eastern European Jews who likely experienced many of the same events and difficulties the ch A great and unique story -- you don't often find a novel about Russian Jewish immigrant lesbian women (with some magical realism thrown in). The shifts in point of view felt awkward and confusing at times and it felt at times like the author tried to throw too many historical facts into the book (Triangle Shirtwaist, mention of the Bintel Briefs, Lillian Wald, etc.). However, as the descendant of Russian/Eastern European Jews who likely experienced many of the same events and difficulties the characters in this book experience (pogroms, crossing the Atlantic by ship, living in tenements, etc.) I found this book fascinating. I felt like I was visiting the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in NYC (in a good way). As I did when I visited the museum, I found myself thinking about the characters and trying to imagine my ancestors in their place. This book won a Lambda Literary Award and while the story is told from the point of view of two gay women, it is as much a book about women -- Russian Jewish, Italian, and other female immigrants -- as a "lesbian story." Intertwined with the story is the story of women living in a time before they could vote and way before any sex discrimination or equal pay laws protected them in the workplace. It wasn't until about 200 pages into the book that the lesbian aspect of the story was fully developed. I would be interested in learning how much of this part of the book is accurate historically -- I imagine much of it is and I would like to read more about it. As for the lesbian aspect of the book, Chava and Rose's relationship is realistic -- the love between them is palpable, as is the pain they sometimes feel because of having to hide their relationship. Gutke and Dovid(a)'s relationship also feels very real, although the reader does not get to know them as well. It makes me sad to think about how Gutke and Dovida could marry only because Dovida presents to the outside world as a man -- gay marriage was not something that would have even crossed the minds of lesbian couples at that time. I enjoyed (maybe "enjoy" is not the right verb here but oh well) learning about the dynamics of the labor union movement and how it often excluded women, African Americans, and immigrants. Anyone interested in the obstacles any of these groups (particularly female immigrants) faced in the early part of the 20th century would enjoy reading this book. My review feels all over the place but perhaps that is because there is just so much in this book that it is difficult to summarize. I could go on and on but instead I'll say, just read it!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ale

    I mean, why didn’t the author just come directly to my house to stab me? That might have hurt less.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Paula

    I read this book several years ago and it still stands out vividly in my mind as a rich story of Jewish immigration and lesbian lovers. The novel takes place in Russia and NYC's Lower East Side in the late 1800's and early 1900's. It is an epic history of Jewish immigrants and a beautiful story of the relationship between two women amidst the plight of immigration, antisemitism, and the labor and political movements of the early 20th century. It will soon be available in paperback. I read this book several years ago and it still stands out vividly in my mind as a rich story of Jewish immigration and lesbian lovers. The novel takes place in Russia and NYC's Lower East Side in the late 1800's and early 1900's. It is an epic history of Jewish immigrants and a beautiful story of the relationship between two women amidst the plight of immigration, antisemitism, and the labor and political movements of the early 20th century. It will soon be available in paperback.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jules Ray

    I was given this book by the publisher for a fair review of the author's work. Wow! What an amazing work of literature! I am so impressed after reading this book. I couldn't put it down for hours at a time. The story begins in turn of the last century Russia and the lives of Russian Jewish women who start as girls and grow up in extremely difficult times of strife. The writing style is exceptional and brings you into the world that our women exist in. The world in Russia in the 1800s was more than I was given this book by the publisher for a fair review of the author's work. Wow! What an amazing work of literature! I am so impressed after reading this book. I couldn't put it down for hours at a time. The story begins in turn of the last century Russia and the lives of Russian Jewish women who start as girls and grow up in extremely difficult times of strife. The writing style is exceptional and brings you into the world that our women exist in. The world in Russia in the 1800s was more than just difficult for Russian Jews and the struggles and attacks were vividly portrayed. As the families move from Russia to America we experience the traverse overseas and the conditions that poor immigrants had to endure. In America, it appears that the streets truly are lined with gold but somewhat tarnished. While they land jobs in America, the world is still full of troubles and it's not easy for an immigrant to hold a job for very long. This book carefully explains how unions got their start in America and what immigrants went through to get there. Life in NYC on the Lower East Side is fantastically described in this book and the exploration of lesbian feelings is touching and sensitive. Growing into their own adolescence and adulthood we have women who are finding out who they are and where they live in each others' lives. I highly recommend this book to any fan of historical fiction or women's literature.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    I was crying like a baby reading the end of this book !!! I enjoyed the characters, storyline, the innocence of young love mirroring the older couples love for each other. Rose and Chava are cousins. Chava went with her family to America and settled in New York. The book opens with Gutke, a midwife, helping at Chava's birth. I was a bit confused when the book jumped back and forth between the two characters story. But Chava runs into Gutke in the city (small world isn't it) They go their seperat I was crying like a baby reading the end of this book !!! I enjoyed the characters, storyline, the innocence of young love mirroring the older couples love for each other. Rose and Chava are cousins. Chava went with her family to America and settled in New York. The book opens with Gutke, a midwife, helping at Chava's birth. I was a bit confused when the book jumped back and forth between the two characters story. But Chava runs into Gutke in the city (small world isn't it) They go their seperate ways but stay friends thru out. The struggles that women had back then were amazing, if it weren't for the women of that time organizing and fighting for our rights we may still be a lower class. All members of the family had to work in order to eat, pay rent and just get by. There was no one to help the little guy. The rich got richer and the poor poorer, and that is not what the US is based on. Not saying that in 2014 we still don't have people who want to be rich and make their employees suffer lower wages for it. CEO's make too much money imo.(sorry for my political opinions here, but this book does get you thinking) This story also reminded me very much of my grandma, as she was born Russian Germany (during the war things got weird with the maps) and she used many of the same words and sayings. I look foreward to similar novels from this author.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Abilouise

    There are only a few long-form works of lesbian fiction I've ever really enjoyed. This is definitely one of them! Thanks Elana Dykewomon for your fully-realized characters and enjoyable prose, and lack of closeted lesbian police officers with commitment issues. There are only a few long-form works of lesbian fiction I've ever really enjoyed. This is definitely one of them! Thanks Elana Dykewomon for your fully-realized characters and enjoyable prose, and lack of closeted lesbian police officers with commitment issues.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ashley Brown Durand

    This is one of my all-time favorites. This is the first historical-fiction I have read, and now I am hooked. I haven't been able to find another book like it. It covered rascism, prejudice, war, child-labor, gender-issues, migration, transgender/lesbian/gay issues, everything! And it's a love story beyond that! And it does it all sooo well. I can't really say anything about this book that would do justice. Read it. This is one of my all-time favorites. This is the first historical-fiction I have read, and now I am hooked. I haven't been able to find another book like it. It covered rascism, prejudice, war, child-labor, gender-issues, migration, transgender/lesbian/gay issues, everything! And it's a love story beyond that! And it does it all sooo well. I can't really say anything about this book that would do justice. Read it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    this book hurt a lot. the prose was beautiful, but i can't stop thinking about how much it hurt. it's rooted in real historical events, some truly horrific things that happened around the turn of the 20th century, and it's a book that really makes you reflect on these things. it's clear that the author is an activist and this book is devoted to the fight for workers' rights in particular, and i think it's powerful in the messages that it conveys. i found this a really absorbing and affecting rea this book hurt a lot. the prose was beautiful, but i can't stop thinking about how much it hurt. it's rooted in real historical events, some truly horrific things that happened around the turn of the 20th century, and it's a book that really makes you reflect on these things. it's clear that the author is an activist and this book is devoted to the fight for workers' rights in particular, and i think it's powerful in the messages that it conveys. i found this a really absorbing and affecting read; my heart is so bruised by it and tender, but i understand the value in making the reader confront some of these terrible things that have happened in the past because those things are still happening to this day and there's still not enough being done about it; the lives of working-class people and of immigrants are still valued less, and anti-semitism still rampant. i'm really glad i read this and learnt more about the lives of russian jewish women, especially lesbian women, in this time period, and many parts of this book will stay with me (haunt me) for a long time.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rose

    This was an interesting novel of the Jewish diaspora between the late 1800s and World War I. Its unique perspective -- that of the feminine experience, and, in particular, the lesbian experience -- made it worth reading, even though I usually feel I have read enough about the diaspora, in general, over the years. The three main characters are sympathetic and well-developed: Gutke, the midwife who has a special gift of "seeing" the future; Chava, whom Gutke delivered into this world; and Rose, Cha This was an interesting novel of the Jewish diaspora between the late 1800s and World War I. Its unique perspective -- that of the feminine experience, and, in particular, the lesbian experience -- made it worth reading, even though I usually feel I have read enough about the diaspora, in general, over the years. The three main characters are sympathetic and well-developed: Gutke, the midwife who has a special gift of "seeing" the future; Chava, whom Gutke delivered into this world; and Rose, Chava's cousin and eventual lover. Pogroms and difficulties in the eastern European region known as the Pale of Settlement lead Chava to her cousin's family in Odessa, and from there, to the US, where there are no pogroms but no Easy Street, either. Both places (the Pale and immigrant-filled New York City) are well drawn, and the history of early unionization of sweat shops (various kinds -- we see how tobacco is prepared for cigars and cigarettes, how binderies operate, how clothing is made, etc.) is given much attention and compared in some ways to the early revolutionary movements in Russia (which one of Chava's brothers chose to enter, despite his father's disapproval). The historical fiction here is well-researched and compelling, as are the characters. I have only 2 criticisms of the book. Dykewomon uses 3 narrators -- Gutke, Chava, and Rose. In most places, this works well. However, there are several times when the narration switches rather abruptly, mid-chapter, without any hint that we've changed narrators until a couple of paragraphs in -- a bit confusing, given that the change is usually relatively short and adds little to the dramatic movement of the story. These changes are rather clumsy and could have been easily avoided or perhaps remedied by an attentive editor. The other "fault" I found was with the treatment of time; it was not always clear to me how much time had elapsed between scenes, chapters, etc. This, too, could have been easily remedied. Neither of these spoiled the story for me, but they drew my attention away from the narration at times. This book is definitely worth a read for anyone who likes historical fiction with a decidedly feminine perspective. If you're a bit squeamish about entering the lives of lesbians, there's no need; this is treated seriously, but deftly, so the love between Chava and Rose is as natural as between the men and women in the novel. I'm glad my daughter-in-law recommended this novel, and I'm glad I read it. It's a brave, informative, interesting story.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    I very much enjoyed the first half of this book, although the second half wasn't quite as compelling. It made for a great book club selection and I found the struggle of Russian Jews to be a subject that I hadn't known much about. Although this book can usually be found in Lesbian Fiction sections, it's a novel about so much more than that- oppression, political activism, feminism, and finding your own path in life. Favorite quote of the book: "There's going to be trouble." "Just from a piece of I very much enjoyed the first half of this book, although the second half wasn't quite as compelling. It made for a great book club selection and I found the struggle of Russian Jews to be a subject that I hadn't known much about. Although this book can usually be found in Lesbian Fiction sections, it's a novel about so much more than that- oppression, political activism, feminism, and finding your own path in life. Favorite quote of the book: "There's going to be trouble." "Just from a piece of paper?" I asked. Mama almost laughed. "Trouble, Chavele, almost always starts with a piece of paper."

  13. 5 out of 5

    Laura Nowlin

    If you're like me and learn history better when narrative is attached, check out this beautifully well written and researched novel of Russian Jewish immigration. Dykewomon takes lots of stylistic risks that work well, and the story told is utterly unique. If you're like me and learn history better when narrative is attached, check out this beautifully well written and researched novel of Russian Jewish immigration. Dykewomon takes lots of stylistic risks that work well, and the story told is utterly unique.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Hermien

    Interesting story built around real historical events. The lesbian angle gave it an extra dimension.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Adelman

    This is a fascinating novel for the lives it brings to its pages and the time period in which it was set. My involvement with this book felt personal, is the women in it are my grandmothers and great grandmothers, and they fled the same violence and oppression and came to the same poverty and struggle, and politicization and commitment to a different order that Chava, the main character develops. The story of Chava and Rose is sweet and tender. The last line of the book left me in tears. I love This is a fascinating novel for the lives it brings to its pages and the time period in which it was set. My involvement with this book felt personal, is the women in it are my grandmothers and great grandmothers, and they fled the same violence and oppression and came to the same poverty and struggle, and politicization and commitment to a different order that Chava, the main character develops. The story of Chava and Rose is sweet and tender. The last line of the book left me in tears. I love that Emma Goldman and Mother Jones wander through these chapters! I found the abrupt changes in point of view, within the same chapters, sort of disruptive, and probably would have preferred the entire novel to be narrated from Chava's point of view. I also wonder if Chava's character is too much the product of a contemporary imagination, or true to how she might have been in her historical time, Here is a description written by Chava, of her people-- the poor, fleeing Jews who left the Russian Pale of Settlement and came to the USA: "We are nervous. Often enough our generosity rouses suspicion: what guilt, what bribe lies coiled within our gifts? But when we withdrawn and are anxious to have enough for ourselves, we are called misers, usurers, petty. Typical. We are typically ourselves, laughing too loud where no one else hears a joke, abstaining in the middle of everyone else's pleasure, escaping whenever we can whatever fate you think is our justice. So we write theories, make music on street corners and study mathematics. We explain ourselves only to each other. If you overhear us, you never understand."

  16. 5 out of 5

    Johanna Markson

    Beyond the Pale, Elana Dykewomon The Pale of settlement was a large area in western Russia to which Jews were restricted from 1791 to 1917. In the Pale were cities and small shtetls where Jews worked, lived, loved, married, had children and practiced their religion. But in these lands there was also rampant Anti-Semitism and Jews had their land stolen from them, were forced to leave the only homes they knew, and were sometimes killed and their property destroyed during waves of progroms. Within th Beyond the Pale, Elana Dykewomon The Pale of settlement was a large area in western Russia to which Jews were restricted from 1791 to 1917. In the Pale were cities and small shtetls where Jews worked, lived, loved, married, had children and practiced their religion. But in these lands there was also rampant Anti-Semitism and Jews had their land stolen from them, were forced to leave the only homes they knew, and were sometimes killed and their property destroyed during waves of progroms. Within the Pale is a small city called Kishinev where Gutke is born and raised and trained to be a midwife. She is gifted at what she does and sometimes sees things about the baby's future when she helps bring them into the world. One of the babies she helps deliver is Chava, second daughter to a Rabbi and his loving wife, born before the turn of the 20th century. Although life isn't great for the Jews of Kishinev it isn't horrible either, until it is too horrible to bare and too horrible to remain. Gutke has another secret to hide besides that fact that she has premonitions, she is also the lover of women. Interestingly, women did find way to love one another during this time, even among this very religious community. Many women were spinsters who found ways to make livings while living together as friends. Others had special relationships with their friends even though both were married and mothers. This secret world, little talked about, is a large piece of this novel. As the violence against the Jews grows, and many people die, many Jews decide the only way to survive and have a future is to take the harsh trip to America. Chava, at 14, is one of the travelers who suffers great misery in steerage to get to America. Gutke and her lover have money and a much easier time on their voyage to the U.S. Once in the U.S. the immigrants must find work. Chava, traveling with her aunt, uncle and three cousins, finds work in various factories while her cousin Rose works in sweatshops as a seamstress. Everyone must work to help the family survive and cling to the ugly tenement apartment they have been lucky to find. Rose's mother takes in piece work and her father goes from job to job as a watch maker. One brother becomes a policeman and the other haggles his way into small success. Luckily, the girls also find friends at the Grand Street Settlement House, and they meet other women struggling to bring dignity to the lives of immigrants and factory workers. Chava becomes an activist for women's suffrage and worker's rights. The struggles, emotions, and personal relationships are expertly articulated in this well researched and lovingly written novel. Life in a small Russian city, the hideousness of the progroms, the igniting of love, the ride on the steamship to America, life in the tenements on the Lower East Side, working endless hours in the sweatshops, fighting for the rights of women and workers, are all elegantly and vividly brought to life in this worthy novel

  17. 4 out of 5

    Daphne Schigiel

    I really really love this book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    LVLMLeah

    4 1/2 Stars This is an intense and often painful book to read, although it's full of humanity, deep insight, and heart. It's really more of a saga as it goes through 2 generations of Russian Jews from late 1800's to almost the 1920's. It starts out with Gutke delivering Chava. Gutke is by then in her 40's and the first half of the book is about her life growing up as she reflects on it up to that moment. The second part of the book is about Chava, a Rabbi's daughter, and her life from the point o 4 1/2 Stars This is an intense and often painful book to read, although it's full of humanity, deep insight, and heart. It's really more of a saga as it goes through 2 generations of Russian Jews from late 1800's to almost the 1920's. It starts out with Gutke delivering Chava. Gutke is by then in her 40's and the first half of the book is about her life growing up as she reflects on it up to that moment. The second part of the book is about Chava, a Rabbi's daughter, and her life from the point of childhood. Due to the changing political atmosphere in Russia in which Jews were being persecuted and murdered and forced to constantly move, both women, although not together, eventually make their way to America. After we get Chava's story, the book jumps back and forth until both women eventually, by accident, meet in NYC. It's a book about the hardship of Jewish life and life of immigrants of the early 1900's. It's also about how women were fighting for more rights and better workplace treatment. It's very detailed and clearly the author did a lot of research. Although both women are lesbians, I did find it interesting that it was not the focus. Or at least from their inner standpoint, as both are narrators of their feelings about their lives, they do not stress about or constantly wonder about their attractions to women. It's very subtle in how it's presented. On the other hand it did show how women could get on in that way and manage. Gutke's partner dresses and a goes through life as a man and he is treated as such by society and people around them who knew seemed to not be too bothered. It’s not really any kind of love story as the focus, although love relationships are part of it. As far at the narration goes, I was a bit jarred by the author's voice. She narrates her own book and it was read in an almost perfunctory, dry way, which I had a hard time with at first. But then I got used to it and started to feel these characters in the author's voice. The only confusing thing is that she didn't change the voice for each character. But that wasn't that big of a deal. Definitely a book I would recommend people read. Especially if you have any interest in actual historical events and how it pertained to Jewish history.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Christoph Fischer

    "Beyond the Pale" is an amazing piece of literature, an almost epic historical novel that spans a comparatively short period oh history but covers a lot of ground. The book tells the interwoven stories of Chava, a Russian girl that escapes a Russian pogrom, and that of midwife Gutke and her female companion who is dressed up as a man. As we follow their lot through the exciting times and their journey from Russia / Bessarabia to New York we also follow the course of European and World History and "Beyond the Pale" is an amazing piece of literature, an almost epic historical novel that spans a comparatively short period oh history but covers a lot of ground. The book tells the interwoven stories of Chava, a Russian girl that escapes a Russian pogrom, and that of midwife Gutke and her female companion who is dressed up as a man. As we follow their lot through the exciting times and their journey from Russia / Bessarabia to New York we also follow the course of European and World History and the many pressing themes of the times, such as gender equality, trade unionism, anti-semitism and many more. As often in good historical fiction the small tragedy is multiplied by the outer circumstances, the fate of torn apart families and the hope of a better life in America, all these themes are handled very well and convincing. The book seems accurate in its historical facts and details and reads compellingly well. Excellent!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Krista

    Got to thinking about this book the other day when hearing a lot on the radio about the 100th year commemoration of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. This was a favorite among favorite works of historical fiction that I read in the 90's which has come back to me again and again in fragments over the years (which is saying something if you know how bad my memory is). Main character begins as an apprentice to a midwife in a Russian shtetl and ends up a labor unionist and suffragist in New York Got to thinking about this book the other day when hearing a lot on the radio about the 100th year commemoration of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. This was a favorite among favorite works of historical fiction that I read in the 90's which has come back to me again and again in fragments over the years (which is saying something if you know how bad my memory is). Main character begins as an apprentice to a midwife in a Russian shtetl and ends up a labor unionist and suffragist in New York after fleeing the pogroms that kill her parents. Also details the love and courage of she and her lover who struggle against the compounded challenges they faced not just as poor women immigrants, but also as lesbians and activists.

  21. 5 out of 5

    GGG

    An excellent, under-read book. It is about love between women across generations and continents. It's also about Jewish experience in Russia and the U.S., and about the early labor movement. It's moving, not lecturey or overtly political (although it abounds with politics and values), and profoundly compelling. My mom recommended it to her book club at work, and she said all were deeply moved by it. An excellent, under-read book. It is about love between women across generations and continents. It's also about Jewish experience in Russia and the U.S., and about the early labor movement. It's moving, not lecturey or overtly political (although it abounds with politics and values), and profoundly compelling. My mom recommended it to her book club at work, and she said all were deeply moved by it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Adrienne

    This book started me thinking about the power of memory in the context of whatever reality might be. I remember these girls as clearly as the time I fell down a wet slide and bruised my butt. Which actually happened? Hmmmm.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    4.5 stars. Always nice to see historical fiction that steers clear of the ruling class! Given how many novels focus on the Romanovs, this one takes an especially refreshing alternate POV. There's some gorgeous writing here, and it feels very timely and immediate. 4.5 stars. Always nice to see historical fiction that steers clear of the ruling class! Given how many novels focus on the Romanovs, this one takes an especially refreshing alternate POV. There's some gorgeous writing here, and it feels very timely and immediate.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lollo

    I am only giving this 4 stars because it has been so long since I read it and I am not sure if I would like it AS much. I would recommend it though.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Reaugh

    I had no idea what to expect from this book, but I couldn't put it down. It was truly an epic, historical love story of unusual proportions. A must read. I had no idea what to expect from this book, but I couldn't put it down. It was truly an epic, historical love story of unusual proportions. A must read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Wendell

    Interesting historical fiction tracing the experiences of a Russian Jewish family immigrating to the United States at the turn of the 20th century. Well crafted effort to explore many levels of early immigrant life particularly as it related to young Jewish women and the many hardships that they and their families faced during a time of great political, social and economic upheaval. The author wrote from the standpoint of young women (early feminists and suffragettes) who were fighting for safe Interesting historical fiction tracing the experiences of a Russian Jewish family immigrating to the United States at the turn of the 20th century. Well crafted effort to explore many levels of early immigrant life particularly as it related to young Jewish women and the many hardships that they and their families faced during a time of great political, social and economic upheaval. The author wrote from the standpoint of young women (early feminists and suffragettes) who were fighting for safe working conditions and the right to vote--both of which forces were gathering steam just before WWI. I enjoyed the book, and appreciated Dykewoman's descriptions of the Russian Jewish plight in anti-semitic Czarist Russia. The fact that the author was able to trace a detailed and clear path from the regular brutal rural pogroms against Jews half a world away and across the Atlantic to city life in lower industrial East side Manhattan, complete with references to many of the most significant factual events of the time, is quite a feat. Unfortunately, in her attempts to cover as much history as she does, including exploring the loving relationship between the two protagonists, the author has spread herself and the story a bit too thin. Much of the writing feels simplistic, a little "less" than what it could have been had there been more concentration on one or two major themes, or events rather than every New York political revolutionary occurrence in a 10 year period. There were a few too many scenes of Socialist Worker's meetings replete with stock (boring) discussions among various feminist characters, many of whom were famous at the time, to feel authentic. How could two simple, poverty stricken working girls keep running into famous suffragettes, Anarchists Socialists, Union organizers every time they left the tenement or their 12-16 hour day jobs in sweatshops or factories? Despite the drawbacks, this book is very readable and probably an excellent novel for young adult readers or anyone who has little or limited knowledge of immigrant life over 100 years ago.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia

    There were many worthwhile aspects to this book. The characters were interesting and well developed. The main character, Chava was especially admirable and endearing for her intelligence, resilience, sensitivity and grit. As a Jewish-American woman, this novel helped me better imagine the life of my grandmother's grandmother, and what possessed her to send her 9 year old son (my great grandfather) alone via steerage to America to save him from the pogroms of the shtetl. I also gleaned a glimpse o There were many worthwhile aspects to this book. The characters were interesting and well developed. The main character, Chava was especially admirable and endearing for her intelligence, resilience, sensitivity and grit. As a Jewish-American woman, this novel helped me better imagine the life of my grandmother's grandmother, and what possessed her to send her 9 year old son (my great grandfather) alone via steerage to America to save him from the pogroms of the shtetl. I also gleaned a glimpse of what it might've been like to be a Jewish woman in the Pale at the turn of the last century, and then to travel across oceans and seas to arrive as a bewildered, filthy and homeless 'greenhorn' faced with building a new life in a world where community, language, context and culture were all completely foreign. On yet another level. the book provided me with a greater appreciation for what it might've been like to be a woman attracted to women in a time and place when there was not even a WORD for such feelings - even if they were to be talked about, which of course, they weren't. The book also stretched into portraits of the sweatshops of New York and the suffrage movement (tired yet?) all interesting, but unfortunately the writing was uneven and just barely good enough to cover so much territory and sustain continuity. I found it particularly discombobulating that the author switched the first person voice between 2 main characters at odd and seemingly random times, so it was sometimes unclear as to who was doing the narrating. All this said, this novel held my attention and interest, expanded my understanding and appreciation of my roots, and will likely not be quickly forgotten.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ron

    Beyond the Pale is a wonderfully vivid Coming-to-America novel that illustrates the immigrant experience. Her story takes place at the beginning of the 20th century, but the broad strokes of which are still true today. Chava and her extended family come to the New World to escape persecution, but find that surviving in the big city is its own kind of challenge. My younger self probably would have dismissed this book as "400 pages of nothing happening" because it isn't terribly plot heavy. Most o Beyond the Pale is a wonderfully vivid Coming-to-America novel that illustrates the immigrant experience. Her story takes place at the beginning of the 20th century, but the broad strokes of which are still true today. Chava and her extended family come to the New World to escape persecution, but find that surviving in the big city is its own kind of challenge. My younger self probably would have dismissed this book as "400 pages of nothing happening" because it isn't terribly plot heavy. Most of the time spent in the main narrative is just following Chava around as she lives her life and tries to make sense of her new life. I think that suits the story well though; as anybody who's been lower class can tell you, any progress is slow and unsteady. My favorite aspect of the book is Dykewomon's prose. For the most part she tells Chava's story in a straightforward manner befitting the working class, but when she has a point to make she can create the most elegant metaphors and evocative imagery. My one qualm about this book is that it sometimes hammers its points home. It teaches about the workers' conditions and the immigrant experience well through example, through the lives of Chava and Rose. I felt the overt "all business is exploitation" soapboxing was unnecessary, like the author didn't trust me to get it. Then again, The Jungle tried to make the same point but the public received an entirely different message, so maybe it needs to be hammered home.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    2.5, probably. But I'll round up because I did find the historical aspects interesting enough to keep me reading. And I found it refreshing that a book about lesbians in the early 1900's focused more on the immigrant experience and labor unions than on any sort of homophobia or queer tragedy. The problem is this book is desperately in need of a good editor. 85% of the book is told in first person through one character's POV, but then there are these abrupt and confusing changes to third person t 2.5, probably. But I'll round up because I did find the historical aspects interesting enough to keep me reading. And I found it refreshing that a book about lesbians in the early 1900's focused more on the immigrant experience and labor unions than on any sort of homophobia or queer tragedy. The problem is this book is desperately in need of a good editor. 85% of the book is told in first person through one character's POV, but then there are these abrupt and confusing changes to third person through another character's POV or to the first person "journal entries" of another character. The POV switch usually lasts for just a handful of paragraphs and adds very little emotionally or plot-wise to the story. The scenes could just as easily have been told from our narrator's POV. Then there are long stretches of the book where almost nothing happens to move the story forward, just a lot of discussions/arguments about labor union stuff with no plot or action. Plus random bits of poetry sprinkled in that just felt self indulgent and unnecessary. Overall, the book just feels a bit like Dykewomon was freewriting and then published with very little editing or review.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ginger Miller

    A wonderful, human, amazing, book. The characters are drawn so vividly that they are unforgettable. Chava, a young girl fleeing the programs in the early 1900's Russia, has heard the horrific details of her father's death and watched the brutal death of her mother, moves to America with her aunt's family. An America full of sweatshops and low paid immigrant workers mainly from Russia. It is impossible to write more without giving away too much. She finds a deep amazing love with Rose. A love tha A wonderful, human, amazing, book. The characters are drawn so vividly that they are unforgettable. Chava, a young girl fleeing the programs in the early 1900's Russia, has heard the horrific details of her father's death and watched the brutal death of her mother, moves to America with her aunt's family. An America full of sweatshops and low paid immigrant workers mainly from Russia. It is impossible to write more without giving away too much. She finds a deep amazing love with Rose. A love that , in the end, crosses spaces so great that following is impossible. This novel is brutal in its way. How could it not be? But it is also a story of family, love, and what should be right but isn't. Books labeled in this "genre" are most often fluffy and ridiculous and could be written by anyone. If that is what readers are looking for this is not the book for them. Of course there are notable exceptions, Sarah Waters, Emma Donahue, and a couple more. This novel will appeal to the readers of those wonderful authors. Highly recommended.

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