The German Bride
By Joanna Hershon
(Ballantine Books, Hardcover, 9780345468451, 320pp.)
Publication Date: March 25, 2008
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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.
Joanna Hershon is the author Swimming and The Outside of August. Her short fiction has been published in One Story and The Virginia Quarterly Review. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, the painter Derek Buckner, and their twin sons.
Advance praise for The German Bride
“Joanna Hershon's sinuous new novel roams away from the milieu of her two previous books, which were modern family dramas, into the territories of historical fiction and immigration literature. Hershon spins the tale of a German Jewish woman named Eva Frank who, after a hasty marriage in 1865, leaves her wealthy father's mansion in Berlin to pursue a new life among the "low mud-cake hovels" of the American West. To the many expressions of this threshold experience in American immigration literature, by authors from Anzia Yezerskia to Jhumpa Lahiri, Hershon adds an eloquent voice.” -Washington Post
"At once lyrical and heartbreaking, Hershon’s third novel (Swimming, 2001, etc.) follows a young Jewish bride as she leaves the refinement of Berlin for the wilds of 1860s Santa Fe....Hershon creates a finely nuanced portrait of their marriage—Eva, politely contemptuous of the state in which she’s forced to live, Abraham, glib, guilty and self-righteous, and yet the two love, or at least desperately need the other. As Eva suffers a number of failed pregnancies, Abraham becomes more indebted to the gambling table and local bordello, and their downfall is imminent. Hershon’s large cast of supporting players—Santa Fe’s French bishop and his grimacing flock of nuns, the other German Jewish merchants prospering and creating a community—and her graceful description of the desert form a narrative of outsiders pitted against a giant landscape. Amidst it all stands little Eva, determined to make a life for herself. A beautifully written tale of small sufferings and redemptions." - Kirkus Reviews
“A surprising novel of grace and refinement. It is a tale of the American West, but unlike any I have ever read before. Hershon enters Willa Cather territory and does it with a rare elegance and complete originality. I was not familiar with Joanna Hershon’s work when I read this novel, and it made me order her first two books.”
——Pat Conroy, author of The Water Is Wide
“Wonderful from start to finish. An immigrant tale and a Western, without the Lower East Side or cowboys. I don’t know why nobody has told such a story before, but I’m glad Joanna Hershon has told it first and told it so well.”
——Mary Doria Russell, author of A Thread of Grace
“A novel of great breadth and depth, a richly imagined pilgrimage into this brave new world. Joanna Hershon paints the portrait of a woman——and her family and suitors, the strange company she starts to keep——with authoritative precision; hers is a first-rate talent and here is a riveting read.”
——Nicholas Delbanco, author of Spring and Fall
“Joanna Hershon’s lush and gripping novel of travel and dislocation exquisitely delineates the shock and loss that accompanied the wild ride of immigration and frontier-living in the mid-nineteenth century. Eva Shein’s heart-in-the-throat journey, from Germany to Santa Fe, is an elegant and mesmerizing testament to human adaptability and survival.”
——Helen Schulman, author of A Day at the Beach
“A highly satisfying story, full of marvelous details that evoke a time when the American West was being built. There is stunning power in Hershon’s finely cadenced prose, and compassion for her characters. This is a novel you can’t put down. Get ready to stay up all night following Eva’s adventures.”
——Jonis Agee, author of The River Wife