Anna Solomons debut nov­el, The Lit­tle Bride, is now avail­able. She will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

I’ve been think­ing about my grand­moth­er recent­ly. This is my pater­nal grand­moth­er, the longest-lived of my four grand­par­ents and the only one I came to know well. Her name was Rose – like so many women of her gen­er­a­tion – and the name suit­ed her per­son­al­i­ty: under her smooth exte­ri­or (held in place by corset and garters) there were thorns.

Peo­ple use a lot of words to describe women like Rose. Hard. Cold. Judg­men­tal. Even unlov­ing. But – and it’s a big but – Rose was a moth­er, to four chil­dren. She has nine grand­chil­dren now, most of us with advanced degrees, thriv­ing in every cor­ner of this coun­try. How do we rec­on­cile what we knew of her with what she gave us?

A cou­ple weeks ago I vis­it­ed a book group that had read my first nov­el, The Lit­tle Bride. The women were dis­cussing my pro­tag­o­nist, Min­na Losk, a Jew­ish orphan who trav­els to Amer­i­ca in the 1880s as a mail-order bride. They were talk­ing about how com­pli­cat­ed she is – how along with being strong and com­pas­sion­ate she can also be stub­born and self­ish. One woman said she for­gave Min­na all of it, because of what she’d been through. She’s a sur­vivor,” she said, and the oth­er women nod­ded. She reminds me of my grand­moth­er,” the woman went on. And my grand­moth­er was not a nice woman.”

Imme­di­ate­ly, oth­ers began to speak. 

My grand­moth­er wasn’t nice, either.”

Mine was very cold.”

I nev­er saw my grand­moth­er smile.”

The table erupt­ed in laugh­ter. Then the women began talk­ing about their grand­moth­ers, and why they thought they’d been the way they were. They won­dered about sto­ries they’d heard – of immi­gra­tion, or abuse, or mis­car­riages. And they won­dered about sto­ries that might have been kept a secret.

As they talked, I start­ed won­der­ing about Rose. Most of her sto­ries had been about my grandfather’s his­to­ry, or about her chil­dren. She hadn’t often talked about her­self. What was her sto­ry, not the pub­lic ver­sion but the pri­vate one? What were her secrets? How had she become the woman I knew?

That con­ver­sa­tion opened up a new door for me in my rela­tion­ship with my grand­moth­er. Fic­tion can do this, I think – it can lead us, how­ev­er cir­cuitous­ly, to new com­pas­sion: for dif­fi­cult char­ac­ters, yes, but also for the peo­ple in our own lives. I feel clos­er, sud­den­ly, to my Grand­ma Rose. I can hear her scold­ing me – But I’m not even alive.” But I don’t think that mat­ters one bit.

Anna Solomon’s debut nov­el, The Lit­tle Bride, is now avail­able. Read more about Anna on her web­site and find dis­cus­sion ques­tions for your book club here.

Anna Solomon is the author of Leav­ing Lucy Pear and The Lit­tle Bride, and a two-time win­ner of the Push­cart Prize. Her short fic­tion and essays have appeared in pub­li­ca­tions includ­ing The New York Times Mag­a­zine, One Sto­ry, Ploughshares, Slate, and more. Coed­i­tor with Eleanor Hen­der­son of Labor Day: True Birth Sto­ries by Today’s Best Women Writ­ers, Solomon was born and raised in Glouces­ter, Mass­a­chu­setts, and lives in Brook­lyn with her hus­band and two children.