The Lit­tle Bride

By – August 25, 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.

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.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Pen­guin Ran­dom House

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?