"Sometimes, in dreams, my first-born son comes back to me," begins Sarah, the long-dead Levitsky family matriarch who narrates her story from beyond the grave. Sarah's infant son, Dovie, was killed in Russia by Cossacks, a tragedy that prompts the indomitable photographer's assistant to flee to America in search of a better life. Beginning her career in a sweatshop, Sarah soon graduates to drawing catalogue illustrations, then painting the portraits of New York's wealthiest. She eventually marries the protective art dealer Lev Levitsky. The Levitskys make a handsome living off Lev's gallery and Sarah's paintings, with their only anxieties centered on their bohemian writer-daughter, Salome, whose life in Paris includes her own literary magazine and an affair with author Henry Miller. Eventually, though, even Salome settles down enough to give birth to beautiful Sally, who grows up to throw herself into the '60s Greenwich Village folk-music scene, quickly becomes a national icon, then proceeds to destroy herself with drugs and alcohol. By then, though, she's produced her own daughter, Sara. Sara's father wins her in a custody dispute, spirits her away to Montana, and refuses to tell her who her mother is. Inevitably, Sara the adult becomes the family chronicler, determined to use Salome's journal, Sally's '60s interviews, and her own musings over a woman's place in history to re-create the past, get to know these women, and assure their immortality.
A clunky but heartfelt work. Still, many of the topics mulled over here (the Jewish immigration to America, the continuing challenges for female artists, women's spirituality) were more effectively addressed in Jong's recent nonfiction