Faderman (Naked in the Promised Land, 2004, etc.) reconstructs her mother's experiences as a Jewish immigrant in 1930s New York.
The author has a knack for tracking down details that bring a story to life, and her descriptions of her mother Mary's journey from a Latvian shtetl to the garment factories and Bronx apartment buildings of 1930s New York are vivid and memorable—as are her descriptions of the dangers faced by the relatives Mary left behind in Latvia. Unfortunately, the fascinating raw material falters under the weight of Faderman’s ponderous prose. The author’s overreliance on heavy-handed foreshadowing saps the narrative energy, and the constant invoking of her mother's "destiny" feels contrived. Faderman's simultaneous resentment of the father who treated her mother badly and gratitude for the man who helped make her is a tension worth exploring; however, the author merely (and repetitiously) asserts it. Faderman's scrupulousness in constructing a faithful historical narrative is admirable, but her writing is overheated and cliché-ridden: moments lead “inexorably” to “what she would pay for to her last rattling breath,” the spread of the “cancer” of fascism is “inexorable,” Americans turn “a blind eye and a deaf ear” to Hitler's aggressions, etc.
Rich in source material and historical detail, the book suffers from the author's pulpy prose style. Still, worth reading for those interested in the lives of Jewish immigrants in New York and the spread of fascism in Eastern Europe in the 1930s.