The Match­mak­er’s Gift: A Novel

  • Review
By – September 19, 2022

Fans of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion ought to know about Lyn­da Cohen Loigman, the author of two nation­al­ly acclaimed nov­els, The Two-Fam­i­ly House and The Wartime Sis­ters. Her newest book, The Matchmaker’s Gift, main­tains a his­tor­i­cal approach but also takes on a con­tem­po­rary lens. The chap­ters alter­nate between two nar­ra­tors: Sara, a young immi­grant woman who serves as a match­mak­er on the Low­er East Side around World War I; and her grand­daugh­ter, Abby, who works for a 1990s cor­po­rate law firm spe­cial­iz­ing in divorce. Togeth­er, their seem­ing­ly oppo­nent pro­fes­sions and world­views weave a fas­ci­nat­ing nar­ra­tive about the poten­tial gift” of matchmaking.

The plot employs some mag­i­cal real­ism, encour­ag­ing read­ers to believe that Sara, even as a young child, is able to tell when two peo­ple are intend­ed” to join in mar­i­tal bliss. Real­ists and cyn­ics may resist this super­nat­ur­al ele­ment and ques­tion if indeed these mar­riages remain hap­py. Help­ing to off­set some of these con­cerns is the research that Loigman includes in her Author’s Notes. It appears that many of the famous cou­ples dis­cussed — such as the rival knish-mak­ing fam­i­lies and the Pick­le Millionaire’s daugh­ter — are based on real-life rela­tion­ships forged by an Ortho­dox Jew­ish match­mak­ing-grand­moth­er, doc­u­ment­ed in sources like the New York Times and in his­tor­i­cal accounts of the Low­er East Side.

These chap­ters sim­mer with vibrant detail. Read­ers famil­iar with Anzia Yezier­s­ka, Abra­ham Cahan, and even Jacob Riis will rec­og­nize the set­ting and char­ac­ters that recall the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry Jew­ish immi­grant expe­ri­ence. Loigman’s research, from Yid­dish car­toons to the Ten­e­ment Muse­um, exudes authen­tic­i­ty, invok­ing the sights and smells of a bygone Low­er East Side. The his­tor­i­cal chap­ters are com­pelling; the more con­tem­po­rary ones are equal­ly so. Read­ers who like their nov­els dark and com­pli­cat­ed might find this one too breezy and uplift­ing. But any­one whose life has been touched or inspired by a grand­par­ent will be drawn to The Matchmaker’s Gift—its vision of how one gen­er­a­tion can affect anoth­er through shared sto­ries and connections.

Ellyn Lem is a Pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at the Uni­ver­si­ty of WI-Mil­wau­kee at Wauke­sha and a cul­tur­al crit­ic. Her schol­ar­ship includes numer­ous arti­cles and books, includ­ing Gray Mat­ters: Find­ing Mean­ing in the Sto­ries of Lat­er Life (2020).

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