Author Kitty Zeldis has written a remarkable story about three women and their reactions to the various circumstances of their lives. She carries us backward in time, from Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights in 1924, to New Orleans in 1898, to Ekaterinaslav, Russia between the years of 1878 and 1896.
Bea, the youngest in her family, was raised as a practicing Jew during the hellish pogroms in Russia. She eventually flees to make a new life in New Orleans, where she believes she has a family connection. She slowly adjusts to a different world, creating a new identity for herself in order to survive.
Alice, meanwhile, is a child bereft of any family in New Orleans. She becomes attached to Bea, who eventually takes the girl on as her ward.
And then there is Catherine, who grew up as the lone child of well-to-do Episcopalian parents in Manhattan. Her prejudiced mother opposes her marriage to Stephen, the son of a prosperous Irish Catholic family. Catherine’s decision to marry him anyway, and to move down to Brooklyn, makes her relationship with her overbearing mother more difficult. Catherine’s father, on the other hand, is more open and accepting, and he tries to smooth out the harsh edges between them. Catherine thus becomes part of Stephen’s large, boisterous family. She has hopes of mothering a large family of her own, but she has trouble conceiving.
Bea is holding on to a secret past and wants to make her way to New York, where she can follow her dream of meeting up with a certain person and revealing her true identity. When the time is right, she takes Alice with her to Brooklyn, and they create a new life for themselves. Bea has become a creative entrepreneur; Alice is a gifted seamstress. Together, they open a dress shop in Brooklyn — and it is here that the three women ultimately meet.
Zeldis describes each character and setting in amazing detail. Although many historical fiction books feature late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Russia and Brooklyn, Zeldis’s rendering is distinct in its depiction of New Orleans. More than that, though, she succeeds in illuminating the hardships that women endured during this era, hardships that remain relevant today: emigration, loneliness, love, motherhood, and independence in a male-dominated world.