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.