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.


Anonymous said...

It's been a while since I've read any historical fiction. Although I don't read many books about Russia, anything about the region, or war, appeals to me - I'll pick this up if I happen to see it.

(And need I say that WWI, in particular, is even more interesting to me now than it usually is, thanks to Downton Abbey? Would love to explore more fictional stories of the war.)

Zibilee said...

I have read a lot about WWII, but not so much about WWI or the Russian Revolution, so this book holds a lot of interest for me. I also don't necessarily have to like the characters in the books that I read, so the fact that Berta is not really a sympathetic character doesn't scare me away. This sounds like a great read and one that I'd like to try. Thanks for the wonderful review, Marie!

leslie said...

i really like that cover. will keep it in mind, as I've just the friend for this book.

~L (omphaloskepsis)

bermudaonion said...

I think the book would be interesting because it highlights the effects of war on women and families. I know those fighting suffer the worst, but the ones left behind do too.

Kathleen said...

It sounds like a touching read. We often forget the effect of war on families, and not just those whose send soldiers to the front.

bookspersonally said...

Lovely review- sounds like a very engaging story, such an interesting historical period and turbulent time. It always strikes me as amazing how people find ways to cope and survive during times of war. Agree- that cover is striking.

rhonda said...

Just curious how did you get to be a Jewish book reviewer,something i would be interested in pursuing.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I've done nothing but memes in 2012. I blame busyness at work. I hope to post more this summer.