cover image Beyond the Pale

Beyond the Pale

Elana Dykewoman, Elana Nachmanndykewomon. Press Gang Publishers, $15.95 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-88974-074-7

With evocative background detail, this novel by the author of the 1974 lesbian/feminist classic Riverfinger Women follows the lives of two Jewish women who flee Russia after the Kishinev pogrom of 1903. Teenager Chava Meyer, orphaned during the attack, endures an excruciating Atlantic passage with the relatives who have adopted her. In the U.S., she crosses paths with midwife Gutke Gurvich, who had attended her birth. Both women have strong memories of political unrest, anti-Semitism and poverty in Russia, and the narrative alternates the stories of their transformation as they enter a new world and a new century. With the encouragment of Gutke and her cross-dressing lover, Dovida, Chava becomes involved in the trade union movement, determined to improve deplorable working conditions. Ironically, the eventual catalyst for change is the horrifying 1912 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which Chava's cousin and lover, Rosa, is one of the victims. Dykewomon skillfully interweaves historical details--from the conditions of life in Eastern Europe's Pale of Settlement to the mechanics of early printing presses. Questions of Jewish faith and tradition, the socialist agenda and a growing feminist awareness provide the backdrop to this moving chronicle of strength and love that triumph over inhumanity. (May)