The Dress­mak­ers of Prospect Heights

  • Review
By – February 17, 2023

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.

Miri­am Brad­man Abra­hams, mom, grand­mom, avid read­er, some­time writer, born in Havana, raised in Brook­lyn, resid­ing in Long Beach on Long Island. Long­time for­mer One Region One Book chair and JBC liai­son for Nas­sau Hadas­sah, cur­rent­ly pre­sent­ing Inci­dent at San Miguel with author AJ Sidran­sky who wrote the his­tor­i­cal fic­tion based on her Cuban Jew­ish refugee family’s expe­ri­ences dur­ing the rev­o­lu­tion. Flu­ent in Span­ish and Hebrew, cer­ti­fied hatha yoga instructor.

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