Does our past decide our future? Is a new beginning possible? These are just some of the questions asked in Nova Ren Suma’s book, A Room Away From the Wolves.
From the first page, we’re introduced to the Catherine House, a boarding house for distressed young women in Greenwich Village. The setting plays just as important a role in the plot as does the main character, Bina Tremper. We find that it is a forbidding structure hiding more than just the secrets of its past and present residents. In this story, it offers shelter to two consecutive generations of Tremper women. Bina’s mother takes residence there, running from the misfortunes of her youth and, more specifically, an abusive relationship with Bina’s biological father. Her mother eventually escapes this relationship only to find herself immersed in a new life with a strictly religious widower with two daughters. Bina’s new stepfather makes it necessary for Bina and her mother to conceal their Jewish heritage in order to fit into a neighborhood that is as closed-minded and cruel as Bina’s new family. Following an incident of violent bullying from her two stepsisters, Bina escapes home and takes refuge at the Catherine House, where she is introduced to the other young women who live there. The mysterious rituals of the house and its troubled inhabitants offer Bina a new set of questions to answer: Who was the original owner of the house, Catherine de Barra? How did she die? And why does her ghost haunt the young women sheltering beneath her roof?
Monet, the impulsive young woman who lives on the floor below Bina, both complicates and enriches her living situation by befriending her. Together they explore New York City, investigating the possibility of what their lives could become, given different circumstances. Both girls seem to recognize in each other a struggle to separate themselves from family ties. What respectively led each of them to the Catherine House, and what, with equal force, prohibits them from leaving again?
Throughout the narrative Bina struggles with feelings of betrayal toward her mother. Bina repeatedly tries to reach out to her despite the anger she feels, believing her mother’s weakness is to blame for her present situation. The book examines the complexities of a mother-daughter relationship burdened by past mistakes. We are left with the feeling that, only by accepting the faults of others, can we embrace the future.
Hazel McNulty Czapsky is an avid reader who currently lives and works in New York City.