The Little Bride

Riverhead Books  2011

It is the late 1800’s in Odessa and South Dakota, and sixteen-year-old Minna Losk decides to change her bleak life by going to America as a mail order bride. Minna has lost both her parents, and her work as a servant barely sustains her. She dreams of a life of comfort with a good husband in America.

First she undergoes the “Look” by a Russian agency in order to be approved as a bride. After a rough ocean crossing, she is met by Jacob, her stepson-to-be, who chaperones her on the exhausting long ride to South Dakota. There she meets Max, her future husband, and Samuel, his oldest son; barely surviving in a mud hut in the middle of nowhere where all the eye can see is grass. Max has rejected help from a wealthy patron who sustains the Am Olam community of new Jewish immigrant farmers. He prefers to maintain his Orthodox observance alone rather than assimilate with the other immigrants. Minna had not expected stepsons nor a harder life than she had left behind. She is a loner who craves family, an outsider who needs direction, so she attempts to adapt to this new reality. The author vividly describes the harsh seasons in the countryside and Minna’s evolving relationships with the other characters.

Discussion Questions

from Penguin

1. What destiny is Minna trying to escape in fleeing Odessa? Do you think she'd have been better served by staying and marrying a man her aunts would have recommended over taking a blind leap of faith?

2. The author infuses The Little Bride with sweeping historical details and lush portraits of not only the teeming cities but the vast Western landscape. While reading the novel, did you feel as though you'd been transplanted to the great, vibrant plains of South Dakota? What was life like for these colonists? What challenges awaited them as they pulled away from the bigger cities, especially as the seasons changed?

3. Why do you think the mail-order bride business thrived and appealed to some participants? What reasons did Max have to summon Minna to South Dakota? What was he hoping for in his "little bride"? What role was Minna stepping into?

4. Minna undergoes many hardships during her journey to America. What life is she expecting there? What parts of herself did she want to leave behind?

5. How does working with the earth on Max's farm change Minna? What skills does she possess when she first arrives, and how does she build her self-reliance? How does this survival mode cause her to mature?

6. How does the absence of Minna's mother echo throughout her life, and over the course of the novel? How is this loss—and in the lessons and wisdom Minna would never receive from her—mirrored in Samuel and Jacob's lives, who also have had their mother leave them?

7. Think about the idea of faith. Max is ostensibly the most faithful character, but how is his faith a weakness? Which other characters exhibit faith? How does Minna have faith?

8. What similarities are there between Max and Minna's father? How are both marked by the grief of losing their wife, and how does each chose to live afterward?

9. How would you describe Minna's relationship to Jacob and Samuel? Do you believe Minna when she admits to coming to feel love for her husband and stepsons? What is the turning point for her, and does she later reverse this feeling?

10. How is a woman's worth tied into her fertility—then and even now? In the book, how is this demand heightened on the frontier versus in the more urban, settled cities? Why?

11. The idea of virtue is important throughout the novel. Which characters do you think are virtuous? How do they express their virtue? Is virtue always a good quality?

12. Minna makes a choice for herself at the end of the novel. Do you think this is a sign of maturity? What do you think she has learned from her experience?

Read Anna Solomon's Posts for the Visiting Scribe

A Grandmother's Secrets

Jews in America's West

When I Went to Synagogue

Twitter Book Club

Read a transcript from the Twitter Book Club for The Little Bride.


comments powered by Disqus

Have You Read...