In 1924, a 22-year-old Ukranian Jewish woman named Lillian Leyb is the sole survivor when her family is massacred. Heartbroken at the loss of her two-year-old daughter and without any connections, Lillian travels to New York, where a distant cousin takes boarders and might be able to help Lillian make her way as a seamstress. Cold-blooded from her losses but ever the survivor, Lillian falls in with a successful Yiddish theater company on the Lower East Side, and thus begins her American life, which will take her from the cafes of Manhattan to the dirtiest bars in Alaska (and other places in between).
One of my friends recommended this book--it is her absolute favorite book ever. The New York Times and NPR seemed to have similar opinions, now that I've checked out their reviews. I liked it, but I found it's left me without a really deep impression. Bloom's historical research is very appreciated, and I was happy to read about a time in immigrant history that is relevant to so many Americans. In the end, I found Lillian a little unengaging, since her narrative meanders from character to character and since the author doesn't go out of her way to let us into Lillian's head. It is definitely an enjoyable, quick read, though, and I like that the book recognizes a fact about humanity: that in our lives, there is less continuity than we imagine there will be; there is rarely an arc that takes us from beginning to end with the people we imagine in the picture. Instead, most often, we cross paths with people we care about, and when our time together elapses we will more than likely never cross paths with them again.
On a slightly closer reading--Bloom makes one point that had not occurred to me before. If your parents die, you are an orphan. If your husband or wife dies, you are a widow(er). If your child dies--the worst of the three conditions--there is no special word for you. You are simply the parent of a dead child. Why don't we have a word, in English? Do other languages have a word?