Published: Jan 2013
What They Say: For fans of the beloved classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a sweeping, multi-generational story about twin sisters, one of whom disappears without a trace in 1939, set in the historically Jewish neighborhood of Boyle Heights, California, and modern-day Los Angeles.
After years of resistance to the idea, feisty octogenarian Elaine Greenstein finally decides to move from the home in which she raised her family to a retirement community. While she's packing her possessions, she finds a clue to the whereabouts of her twin sister, who disappeared from the little-known Jewish mecca of Boyle Heights on the eve of WWII when the girls were eighteen. Plunging back into memories of her childhood and the momentous historical facts that impacted her family, Elaine recalls her family's stories-those from the Old Country, and tales of immigration travails, and the heartache of being the "smart" one of the twins instead of the "popular" one.
In an utterly unforgettable, salty voice, Elaine revives the memories of growing up with her twin sister Barbara, her parents, her Zayde, her aunts and her younger sisters as the Greensteins bear the disappointments, heartbreaks, and fallout from the immigrant baggage that they have been unable to shed despite settling in southern California-the land of sunshine and opportunity, fig trees and equality.
Janice Steinberg's novel is not only about the stories that make up our family histories, but also about those we tell ourselves in order to believe in who we've made ourselves out to be.
What Elaine Says: This book got off to a very good start with me. The very first chapter is titled 'Elaine'. This made me happy. Thankfully, the fact that the leading character is called Elaine is not the only reason to like this novel.
An interesting 'multi generational' piece, The Tin House follows Elaine as she thinks back over her life and in particular the mysterious dissappearance of the her twin sister. It's nicely written and Steinberg provides us with an interesting insight into life in America as a Jew after the war.
One thing let this book down for me however. Steinberg spends a lot of time explaing certain aspects of Jewish culture or defining Jewish words. This is fine but, at the beginning especially, it interupped the narrative flow and distracted from the story telling. I felt that Steinberg underestimated her own writing ability and her reader by doing this. It's a minor quibble but one worth mentioning.
All in all an interesting novel which also offers a fresh insight into life in Los Angeles past.
Elaine's Rating: 6/10
"As it turned out, Mama's skill, the one that paved her way to America, lay in neither needlework nor theatre. Instead, it was the art she had first exercised in her cradle, when Meyr adored her, and it flowered in her family's cafe. It was her ability to charm older men. This gift, like her infant winsomeness, she possessed in all innocence."