The Riv"/>
 

THE SINGING FIRE

Lilian Nattel, Author
Lilian Nattel, Author . Scribner $25.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7432-4966-9
Reviewed on: 01/12/2004
Release date: 02/01/2004
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-676-97601-4
Hardcover - 321 pages - 978-0-676-97600-7
Paperback - 321 pages - 978-0-7432-4967-6
Open Ebook - 336 pages - 978-0-307-37068-6
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Two determined Jewish runaways strive for better lives in chaotic turn-of-the-century London in Nattel's rich and lovingly written second novel (after 1999's The River Midnight ). Seventeen-year-old Nehama, who arrives from Poland in 1875, is quickly tricked into prostitution and brutalized by her boss, the squire. She escapes that sordid life—which Nattel unflinchingly, chillingly portrays—when she's taken in by a young couple in Frying Pan Alley. She becomes a skilled seamstress and eventually marries a kind tailor who knows little of her past. In 1886, Emilia, privileged but pregnant and unwed, flees her cruel father and weak mother back in Minsk. Nehama's and Emilia's paths converge when Nehama prevents the ruthless brothel owner who enslaved her from doing the same to Emilia. Emilia, who's posing as a widow, lodges with Nehama, but soon breaks under the drudgery of London's ghetto life. Leaving her newborn daughter with Nehama, who is unable to bear children after two miscarriages, Emilia decamps to London's Soho, where she works as a shop girl and catches the eye of Jacob, a successful Jewish writer who thinks the "golden-haired and gray-eyed" Emilia is a gentile. Both women are haunted by the pasts they conceal from their men, and sometimes comforted by beneficent ghosts: into this story of struggle and assimilation, Nattel skillfully weaves the guardian spirits of Nehama's grandmother and Emilia's father's first wife. The pacing is leisurely, and the prose is lovely, leavened by subtle humor and infused with intelligence. Agent, Helen Heller. (Feb.)

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