A first novel set in Minneapolis celebrates, in self-consciously luminous prose, a young German immigrant's journey to finding her place and accepting another woman's love. The story begins shortly before the WWI when 16-year-old Kathrin, her parents now both dead, immigrates to Minneapolis. There, she joins her cousin Lotte, who works in a flourmill sewing sacks. Kathrin comes from a region noted for its fairy tales, and fairy tales are an underlying subtext in the story—itself a fairy tale of sorts, as Kathrin faces daunting challenges, meets a woman with seemingly bewitching powers, and experiences a personal transformation. Kathrin, eager for a better life, starts work at the mill and learns English at night. After two years, John, the nephew of an immigrant bookseller whose store she likes to frequent, arranges for her to help wealthy Violet Waverly translate the legends her late husband, an ethnographer, had collected. Kathrin moves into Violet's glorious house on Summit Avenue and is soon entranced with Violet but senses there are hidden secrets that account for her melancholia and her family's cool treatment of her. As John courts Kathrin, she'll be torn between what she feels for him—and what she increasingly feels for Violet.
Even the descriptions of immigrant life lack vitality in this ambitious but unpersuasive novel.