The Little Russian

( 9 )

Overview


The Little Russian spotlights an exciting new and assured voice in historical fiction. The novel tells the story of Berta Alshonsky, who revels in childhood memories of her time spent with a wealthy family in Moscow––a life filled with salons, balls, and all the trappings of the Upper Class––very different from her current life as a grocer’s daughter in the Jewish townlet of Mosny. So when a mysterious and cultured wheat merchant walks into the grocery, Berta’s life is forever altered. She falls in love, unaware...
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The Little Russian

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Overview


The Little Russian spotlights an exciting new and assured voice in historical fiction. The novel tells the story of Berta Alshonsky, who revels in childhood memories of her time spent with a wealthy family in Moscow––a life filled with salons, balls, and all the trappings of the Upper Class––very different from her current life as a grocer’s daughter in the Jewish townlet of Mosny. So when a mysterious and cultured wheat merchant walks into the grocery, Berta’s life is forever altered. She falls in love, unaware that he is a member of the Bund, The Jewish Worker’s League, smuggling arms to the shtetls to defend them against the pogroms sweeping the Little Russian countryside.

Married and established in the wheat center of Cherkast, Berta has recaptured the life she once had in Moscow. So when a smuggling operation goes awry and her husband must flee the country, Berta makes the vain and foolish choice to stay behind with her children and her finery. As Russia plunges into war, Berta eventually loses everything and must find a new way to sustain the lives and safety of her children. Filled with heart-stopping action, richly drawn characters, and a world seeped in war and violence; The Little Russian is poised to capture readers at every turn.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Sherman, co-creator of the television show That’s So Raven, makes an impressive fiction debut with an epic tale of war’s transformative effects on one Russian woman and her family. As a teenage girl at the beginning of the 20th century, Berta Lorkis is sent from the Ukraine, or “Little Russia,” to become a temporary playmate for a distant relation in Moscow, leaving behind her working-class Jewish family and becoming entranced with Moscow’s sophistication and wealth. When her relation is married off, however, Berta is sent back to Mosny, where she longs for the luxurious life she’d grown accustomed to in the big city. After a year of misery, she marries the wealthy Haykel “Hershel” Gregorvich Alshonsky, and moves with him to a more affluent area where they start a family. Hershel, though a merchant, smuggles guns and helps his fellow Jews fight the Russian peasants. On the eve of WWI, a smuggling mission goes awry and Hershel must flee to America, but Berta refuses to go, preferring her life of leisure and finery over the potential hardships of a new country. But the war consumes her wealth and forces her evolution from vapid snob to endearing survivalist. As the novel progresses into the revolution, the narrative begins to feel rushed, but Sherman succeeds with her epic, sweeping arc and auspicious period setting. (Jan.)
Library Journal
When in 1903 Berta Lorkis is unceremoniously sent back to her family's village in Ukraine (Little Russia) after serving for years as the young companion to the daughter of a wealthy Jewish family in Moscow, she feels that her life is over. Then into her grocer father's store walks Hershel Alshonsky, an ambitious, well-to-do wheat merchant. The two fall in love, have two children, and enjoy a successful life in Cherkast. But to Berta's horror, she soon discovers that Hershel is a member of the Jewish Worker's League and supplies guns to the shtetlach to help them defend themselves against pogroms. When a smuggling action goes horribly wrong, Hershel must flee. Berta refuses to leave, and soon she and her children face unimaginable hardship and danger as the drumbeat of war comes ever nearer, eventually forcing them into a perilous journey to find Hershel in America. VERDICT Sherman's extraordinary debut novel plunges her readers into the bitter cold, deprivation, and upheaval of early 20th-century wartime Russia. Berta is a fascinating mix of petty vanity, devoted parenting, and breathtaking courage, fleshed out with cinematic detail that's both irresistible and spectacularly illuminating. All fiction readers will enjoy.—Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI
Kirkus Reviews
Sherman's stark debut tracks a fortune-tossed couple whose quarter-century odyssey encapsulates the plight of Russia's Jews. The novel opens with a gut-churning description of an 1897 pogrom in Little Russia (modern-day Ukraine). The 14-year-old boy who numbly watches a peasant beat his father to death, we learn, is Hershel Alshonsky. Seven years later, he catches the eye of Berta Lorkis, a restless grocer's daughter who thinks Hershel will give her back the comfortable life she enjoyed as companion to a wealthy Moscow family. Berta doesn't know that Hershel's travels as a wheat merchant disguise his activities smuggling guns for the Bund, which aims to arm Jews against pogroms. They have nine happily married years before a gun raid gone wrong sends Hershel fleeing to America in early 1914. Berta refuses to join him, thinking she and her two children can remain secure in the affluence Hershel's trade created; by the time she realizes her mistake, World War I has begun, and they are trapped. Scrambling to support her son and daughter, proud, cultivated Berta is reduced to a "house Jew" who digs up hard-to-find luxury goods and sells them to gentiles who admit her only at their back doors. The Bolshevik Revolution and ensuing civil war only make matters worse for Russian Jews, persecuted by all sides. Berta manages to scrape by and learns in 1919 that Hershel has sent for her. If she can only get to the American Embassy in Warsaw, she can save herself and the one child she has left. Sherman paints a refreshingly unsentimental portrait of a woman beset and a nation in the throes of revolutionary change yet still bound by ancient prejudices--so unsentimental, in fact, that it's hard to care much about vain, self-centered Berta even after she is transformed into a tough, resourceful survivor. Well-written and researched, but emotionally unengaging and probably not to the taste of those who like their historical fiction more reassuring.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781582437729
  • Publisher: Counterpoint Press
  • Publication date: 2/21/2012
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author


Susan Sherman is a former Chairman of the Art Department of Whittier College, a small liberal arts university once attended by President Richard Nixon. She is also the co-creator of “That’s So Raven,” one of the most successful television shows for children in the history of the Disney Network. This is her first novel.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 25, 2011

    Amazing Book & Amazing Author!

    I got a sneak peek at this book and couldn't put it down! Sherman's characters will live in my memory for a long time. I feel like I went with Berta on her journey. It sounds cheesy, but I totally laughed and cried reading this book...if you are looking for a book to curl up with, this one is a winner.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2012

    Highly recommend.

    Thoroughly enjoyed. I love the history of the country and am amazed at how these people survived. For anyone who loves to read historical novels, this is a must.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 15, 2012

    A very good read

    I very much enjoyed this book, but felt that something was missing. There were many events and characters in the book that the reader only got a small view of and were not given more detail on surrounding events, outcomes of events, or details on what happened with other characters or motivations for their actions. The book clearly just follows the life of the main character, but I wanted to know more about what was occurring with the people around her. As far as the story that I did get - it was moving and completely held my attention. The reader follows the main character on a very difficult journey. I find that the fact that it didn't have to happen that way at all makes me think back on this book often.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 8, 2012

    Delightful

    What a wonderful debut novel! This is a book that you won't want to put down because there is drama in every page turn. Can't wait for Sherman's next book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 11, 2012

    A must read!!

    Set against a backdrop of early 20th century Russia, this deeply moving novel follows one woman's dogged fight for survival for herself and her family. Amidst brutal pogroms and harsh winters Berta Alshonsky's search for her beloved husband rings with human tenderness and spirit. Beautifully written, fast-paced, crackling with history and humor this novel is one of the best I've read in ages.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2012

    Good story, but ended abruptly!!!!

    I thought that the ending was symbolic of letting go of the past. After all that the story had developed as far as trial and tribulations, the abrupt ending was unexpected.

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    Posted March 4, 2012

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    Posted February 22, 2012

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    Posted May 22, 2012

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