Matriarch Ida Amdur and her daughter Bessie escape from Ukraine to America in
1905, fleeing the persecution of Jews in a pogrom, or massacre, in which five members
of their family were murdered. But fleeing one tragedy doesn’t guarantee an easy life for
them or the generations that follow.
In How to Make a Life by Florence Reiss Kraut, a multi-layered saga of four generations of the Weissman family, we see how the trauma and challenges faced by the family members impact their relationships and future generations. Betrayal, secrets, accidents, illnesses, good luck and bad are woven through the novel. As personal desires come into conflict with family needs, the Weissmans must accept each other’s mistakes and differences or risk cutting ties with the very people who anchor their place in the world.
Anyone who comes from a large, close family will recognize the intricacy of the
connections among these varied and sometimes flawed people. Anyone who is not
from such a family will learn from having entered this world. Readers of Colm Tóibín
and Anne Patchett will devour How to Make a Life and it is a perfect book club pick.
How To Make A Life is both a moving and memorable book and I’m very grateful to be blogging about it as part of the tour. It really lets us see these historical events and their repercussions and allows us a real insight into the many thousands of people across the world who lost everything, fled their homes and went through unimaginable suffering at the hands of the Pogroms and how whole families lives were altered irrevocably as a result.
This unforgettable and affecting read allows us an unforgettable insight into the lives of this family, particularly Ida and Bessie whilst we see at close hand the devastating impact these events had on their lives. Their flight and its aftermath is brought vividly to life as a story of a people just trying to survive. These women have very different personalities but their experiences bond them together and let us see the impact of tis upheaval on not just their lives but on all four generations of woman that we meet through these pages.
The characters in this book spring to life from the page and remain in your heart long after you’ve finished– it’s impossible to close the final page of this book and not feel a strong connection to these characters as you know that all the time you are reading it that these stories represent the many thousands of women who lived through those times as well as those who didn’t. Even though this book is fictional, it is undoubtedly full of real stories of suffering and human endurance that are still happening in some places across the world. The power of the narrative with its simple lyrical words to convey such powerful truths is an important part of why this novel has stuck with me and why I really think that you should read it too. The book it reminds me of in terms of my engagement with it is The Kite Runner and just like that book, these characters are very much still alive in my mind and I can’t forget their emotional as well as their literal struggle go forwards and deal with the legacy of their uprooting. Bessie and Abe Weissman’s children struggle with their daughter Ruby’s mental illness, Jenny’s love affair with her brother-in-law, the disappearance of Ruby’s daughter and the accidental deaths of Irene’s husband and granddaughter. This is a story filled with pain but its epic path means that it’s totally unforgettable and you will think of these characters a lot when you are not with the book.
Their new lives in America are far from a land of milk and honey and their struggles continue as they move through the century, through civil rights riots, war protests and the rise of other powers across the globe. This novel is an epic journey and brings you with the characters as they are brought face to face with some of the things that their forefathers fled from, even in the new world. This is an important read and I can’t recommend it highly enough. A powerful insight into identity, suffering and the lengths we will go to to protect the things that are most important to us. This is not an easy read, but it’s a very important one and it’s one that I unreservedly recommend. I am so grateful that I got the chance to read it and have really learned a lot from this family’s stories of hope, pain and ultimately survival. Buy yourself a copy here and discover this epic story for yourself .
Writer On The Shelf
Florence Reiss Kraut is a native New Yorker, raised and educated in New York City. She holds a BA in English and a master’s in social work. She worked for thirty years as a clinician, a family therapist, and CEO of a family service agency while writing stories and essays for publication. Then she retired to devote herself to writing and traveling widely. She has published personal essays for the New York Times and her fiction has appeared in journals such as The Evening Street Press, SNReview, The Westchester Review and others. She lives with her husband in Rye, New York.