Tuesday, February 7, 2012

REVIEW: The Little Russian, by Susan Sherman

The Little Russian, by Susan Sherman. Published 2012 by Counterpoint. Literary Fiction.

I haven't been reading a lot of Jewish books lately; a few still cross my desk every now and then, and among them was The Little Russian, the story of Berta Alshonsky, the daughter of a grocer from a small village called Mosny in Ukraine. It's 1897 when the story opens; her family has sent her to Moscow to be the companion of a relative; there, she becomes used to the glitter and wealth of the city and faces a harsh awakening when she returns home. Soon though, she falls in love with a dashing and rich young man named Hershel. They marry and though they live comfortably for some time, Hershel's secret activities put the family in danger. Pogroms, always a threat, worsen with the outbreak of the Great War and the revolution; the family's status and conditions deteriorate quickly and Berta finds herself making decisions and doing things she never thought she would as a lady of leisure.

I enjoyed reading The Little Russian. The action flows quickly and the setting and characters are vivid and engaging. Knowing some of the basics of Jewish culture will help the reader with some of the details but I don't think most readers will be left adrift overmuch. Berta is not an easy woman to like but she becomes a woman to admire as she struggles to keep herself and her family afloat, enduring some very painful losses along the way. The love story between Hershel and Berta is also very moving and Sherman creates a really frightening portrait of the upheavals and chaos of the Russian Revolution and World War I. Overnight, status, property, everything about a person could be stripped away; Berta musters resources she never knew she had to help her family survive.

I would definitely recommend The Little Russian to readers of Jewish books and those interested in the effects of war on women and families. I didn't love it but I liked it and found myself turning the pages rapidly to find out what was going to happen next to this difficult but determined woman and her brood. It's an intelligent, enjoyable book with genuine suspense and even a happy ending.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.