The Ger­man Bride

By – February 24, 2012

What is a nine­teen-year-old Ortho­dox Jew­ish woman from Europe doing out in the South­west of Amer­i­ca in 1865? Joan­na Her­shon answers this ques­tion in her new nov­el, The Ger­man Bride.

Eva Frank has hasti­ly mar­ried a man she does not love in order to get away from a non-Jew­ish artist named Hein­rich who had been com­mis­sioned by her father to paint her por­trait. At the age of fif­teen, she has had a pas­sion­ate affair with him, but soon real­izes that con­ver­sion is not an option for either one of them and, giv­en her family’s val­ues, she must end it. She is sur­pris­ing­ly strong in tak­ing con­trol of her life at such a young age, but she feels she must not be tempt­ed and so mar­ries Abra­ham Schein, who takes her away to Amer­i­ca. Armed with her desire not to be hurt again, she approach­es this mar­riage intel­lec­tu­al­ly, think­ing she can grow to love her husband.

How­ev­er, Abra­ham Schein turns out to be a gam­bler, a heavy drinker, and a wom­an­iz­er. And like most gam­blers, he makes promis­es he can’t ful­fill — not only to his debtors but to his wife. One of his promis­es, which is extreme­ly mean­ing­ful to Eva, is to build her a Euro­pean style home to replace the adobe hut they are liv­ing in after their arrival in San­ta Fe. Eva, who has come there with child­ish hopes and ideals, los­es them one at a time. If adver­si­ty is the test of char­ac­ter, Eva pass­es with fly­ing col­ors, along with heart­break. It is fas­ci­nat­ing to see how she devel­ops from a super­fi­cial young woman, who is jeal­ous of her neigh­bor, Bea, for being good look­ing, grace­ful, and rich into a self-assured per­son, who learns how to sur­vive. Trac­ing her path out of sev­er­al des­per­ate sit­u­a­tions makes this book a page-turner.

Eleanor Ehrenkranz received her Ph.D. from NYU and has taught at Stern Col­lege, NYU, Mer­cy Col­lege, and at Pace Uni­ver­si­ty. She has lec­tured wide­ly on Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture and recent­ly pub­lished anthol­o­gy of Jew­ish poet­ry, Explain­ing Life: The Wis­dom of Mod­ern Jew­ish Poet­ry, 1960 – 2010.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Ran­dom House

1. Eva blames her­self through­out the nov­el for the death of her sis­ter Hen­ri­ette and Henriette’s new­born son. Do you think that Eva is, in fact, to blame? Do you think in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion today, a woman would suf­fer a com­pa­ra­ble amount of guilt and shame?

2. Eva has rela­tion­ships with three dif­fer­ent men in this nov­el — Hein­rich, Abra­ham, and Levi. What issues do you think Her­shon was try­ing to explore through each one? Do you think Eva was in love with any, or all, of these men?

3. Abra­ham is a mad­den­ing hus­band, broth­er, busi­ness part­ner, and friend. Even so, there is some­thing com­pelling about him. Did you find your­self root­ing for him despite his ter­ri­ble behav­ior, or did you feel that he got only what he deserved?

4. Why do you think Her­shon chose The self forms on the edge of desire,” a quote from an Anne Car­son poem, as her epigraph?

5. What role does Judaism play in The Ger­man Bride? What about the role of Jew­ish iden­ti­ty? Is there a dif­fer­ence between the two?

6. There is a dras­tic dif­fer­ence in envi­ron­ment between Berlin and San­ta Fe, and the land­scape of the Amer­i­can south­west is evoked both harsh­ly and sub­lime­ly. What role do you think place” plays in the devel­op­ment of The Ger­man Bride?

7. Do you iden­ti­fy more with Eva’s sis­ter-in-law, Beat­rice Speigel­man or with Eva her­self? Why?

8. How big a part does God and faith play in this novel?

9. Eva and Levi form their friend­ship while in a sick­room. How does his weak­ness play a part in their rela­tions? Is his weak­ness eroti­cized? How?

10. Abra­ham and Mey­er have a strained and ulti­mate­ly trag­ic rela­tion­ship. Do you think Mey­er should have cut him off long before he did? Which of the two broth­ers is more Amer­i­can”?

11. This is a his­tor­i­cal nov­el, in that it takes place in the past. But do you think this sto­ry would hold up in a con­tem­po­rary set­ting? Is there a dif­fer­ence between a his­tor­i­cal nov­el and a lit­er­ary nov­el that hap­pens to take place in the past?

12. How would you char­ac­ter­ize Hershon’s prose style? Are there any sen­tences that stayed with you after you’d fin­ished read­ing? Pick a strik­ing scene and read it aloud. Is there music in the lan­guage? Vari­a­tion? Is any­thing excessive?

13. The end­ing of The Ger­man Bride leaves so much in ques­tion. Were you sat­is­fied by Hershon’s deci­sion to end mid-jour­ney? What role does Pauline, her fel­low stage­coach pas­sen­ger, play in this sto­ry? Do you think she is impor­tant to the nov­el? How? Why do you think Her­shon end­ed the book with the line: The oth­er is me”?