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The River Midnight
Lilian Nattel
Adult Fiction NATTEL

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From Publishers' Weekly:

Canadian author Nattel's debut novel poignantly and humorously evokes shtetl life by interweaving stories of four Jewish women in Blaszka, a turn-of-the-century Polish village. As vilda hayas (wild children), they romp in the woods. As adults, they bind their community together through their shared joys, sorrows, schemes and scandals. Married to the butcher and running his shop with wily efficiency, childless Hanna-Leah likes to bathe and dream in the Polnocna (Midnight) River. Restless Faygela has several children, the eldest in jail for helping her American cousin spread revolutionary ideas. After Zisa-Sara dies in America, her orphaned children are returned to her native village to be raised by friends. Looming over all is earth-goddess Misha, a strong, independent midwife who divorces her husband and refuses to remarry or reveal the father of her child. Blaszka plays host to Russians, Poles, Jews, non-Jews, players, peddlers, drifters and demons. As villagers travel, the reader also glimpses the streets of Plotsk, Paris, Warsaw and immigrant New York. Retelling each scene from different perspectives in fluid prose dotted with aphorisms and Yiddishisms, Nattel celebrates a culture that values scholarship, charity and individual freedom, its high-mindedness balanced by a coarse appreciation of human weakness. Details of food preparation, sexual attitudes, religious ritual and family routine produce a richly textured portrait of a small town. While her modest magic realism (evidently owing a debt to Singer and Aleichem) never soars, it beautifully captures a lost way of life and its enduring sense of community. Agent, Helen Heller. BOMC and QPB alternates; rights sold in Italy, Germany, Canada, U.K. and the Netherlands. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

Polish Jewish life at the end of the 19th century in the fictional shtetl of Blaszka is the setting of this powerful debut novel, which balances magical elements with historical detail. Here, strong women ran the businesses, while the men are concerned with religious matters, the village council, the tavern, and the Polish authorities. Misha, the midwife, is a bigger-than-life earth mother who concocts herbal remedies for the village while safeguarding its secrets, including the name of the father of her unborn child. As a girl, she danced in the woods with her four friends, the vilda hayas, or wild creatures. The story of what happens to these girls as they become women is told first from the women's perspective, then from the men's, and finally from Misha's. Reminiscent of the work of I.B. Singer, this portrayal of a world that vanished with the Holocaust is filled with human tension and wonder. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/98.]‘Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, MD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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main characters Misha

Blond; beautiful.

Dreams of teaching and writing.


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