The Tin Horse: A Novel

( 12 )

Overview

In the stunning tradition of Lisa See, Maeve Binchy, and Alice Hoffman, The Tin Horse is a rich multigenerational story about the intense, often fraught bond sisters share and the dreams and sorrows that lay at the heart of the immigrant experience.

It has been more than sixty years since Elaine Greenstein’s twin sister, Barbara, ran away, cutting off contact with her family forever. Elaine has made peace with that loss. But while sifting through old papers as she prepares to ...

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The Tin Horse: A Novel

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Overview

In the stunning tradition of Lisa See, Maeve Binchy, and Alice Hoffman, The Tin Horse is a rich multigenerational story about the intense, often fraught bond sisters share and the dreams and sorrows that lay at the heart of the immigrant experience.

It has been more than sixty years since Elaine Greenstein’s twin sister, Barbara, ran away, cutting off contact with her family forever. Elaine has made peace with that loss. But while sifting through old papers as she prepares to move to Rancho Mañana—or the “Ranch of No Tomorrow” as she refers to the retirement community—she  is stunned to find a possible hint to Barbara’s whereabouts all these years later. And it pushes her to confront the fierce love and bitter rivalry of their youth during the 1920s and ’30s, in the Los Angeles Jewish neighborhood of Boyle Heights.
 
Though raised together in Boyle Heights, where kosher delis and storefront signs in Yiddish lined the streets, Elaine and Barbara staked out very different personal territories. Elaine was thoughtful and studious, encouraged to dream of going to college, while Barbara was a bold rule-breaker whose hopes fastened on nearby Hollywood. In the fall of 1939, when the girls were eighteen, Barbara’s recklessness took an alarming turn. Leaving only a cryptic note, she disappeared.
 
 In an unforgettable voice layered with humor and insight, Elaine delves into the past. She recalls growing up with her spirited family: her luftmensch of a grandfather, a former tinsmith with tales from the Old Country; her papa, who preaches the American Dream even as it eludes him; her mercurial mother, whose secret grief colors her moods—and of course audacious Barbara and their younger sisters, Audrey and Harriet. As Elaine looks back on the momentous events of history and on the personal dramas of the Greenstein clan, she must finally face the truth of her own childhood, and that of the twin sister she once knew.
 
In The Tin Horse, Janice Steinberg exquisitely unfolds a rich multigenerational story about the intense, often fraught bonds between sisters, mothers, and daughters and the profound and surprising ways we are shaped by those we love. At its core, it is a book not only about the stories we tell but, more important, those we believe, especially the ones about our very selves.

Advance praise for The Tin Horse
 
“Steinberg, the author of five mysteries, has transcended genre to weave a rich story that will appeal to readers who appreciate multigenerational immigrant family sagas as well as those who simply enjoy psychological suspense.”—BookPage
 
“Steinberg . . . has crafted a novel rich in faith, betrayal, and secrecy that explores the numerous ways people are shaped and haunted by their past. . . . A sweeping family saga reminiscent of the writing of Pat Conroy, where family secrets and flashbacks combine to create an engrossing tale of growth and loss. Highly recommended for fans of family drama and historical fiction.”—Library Journal
 
“Steinberg’s quietly suspenseful novel is compelling by virtue of her sympathetic characters, vivid depiction of WWII-era Los Angeles, and pinpoint illuminations of poverty, anti-Semitism, family bonds and betrayals, and the crushing obstacles facing women seeking full and fulfilling lives.”—Booklist

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When Elaine Greenstein stumbles on an old business card in her mother's papers, she wonders if it might be the key to finding her twin sister, Barbara, who disappeared at the age of 18. But this pleasantly sturdy drama is not in any hurry to solve the mystery. Even-keeled despite a tumultuous narrative, the book slides back to Elaine's formative years and progresses in stately fashion. The scene is early-20th-century Boyle Heights, a diverse Los Angeles neighborhood where the Greensteins and their Jewish neighbors have formed a thriving community. Elaine explores their struggles as a young girl, the immigration experiences of her mother and grandfather, her free-spirited aunt's attempts to live on her own terms, and her cousin's courageous union organizing. Steinberg's (Death in a City of Mystics) careful and satisfying characterizations extend to neighbors and friends as well, creating a vibrant portrait of community. Moving alongside these personal stories are larger historical forces, notably the Depression and, as Elaine enters her turbulent teenage years, the looming threat of war. Elaine's relationship with her sister, complicated by a messy love triangle, comes to a head amid global upheaval. Nearly 70 years later, as she remembers and reexamines her past, Elaine hopes that buried wounds might finally be healed if she can only find her twin sister.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
While working with an archivist to prepare her papers for donation, elderly Elaine Greenstein discovers a new clue in the mystery of the disappearance of her twin sister, Barbara, when they were 18. This discovery leads Elaine down a path of long-ago memories about her childhood in Boyle Heights, CA, as well as a modern-day hunt for Barbara. Via flashback, the reader is deposited in the midst of the Jewish community in the early 1900s when young Elaine struggles to define herself outside of the shadow cast by her vivacious, popular twin, while competing with her for the heart of Danny, a zealous neighbor. Steinberg, a mystery writer (Death in a City of Mystics), has crafted a novel rich in faith, betrayal, and secrecy that explores the numerous ways people are shaped and haunted by their past.

Verdict A sweeping family saga reminiscent of the writing of Pat Conroy, where family secrets and flashbacks combine to create an engrossing tale of growth and loss. Highly recommended for fans of family drama and historical fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 9/10/12.]—Katie Lawrence, Chicago

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
Suspense writer Steinberg (Death in a City of Mystics, 1998, etc.) folds a missing person mystery into a Jewish multigenerational family history set in Boyle Heights, once a distinctly Jewish neighborhood in Los Angeles. About to move into a Los Angeles retirement home, former activist lawyer Elaine is preparing her archives to donate to USC when she stumbles upon a business card from the private detective she worked with in her 20s, Philip Marlowe no less: They met when she was the cute, intellectual clerk in The Big Heat bookstore scene. Soon, 80-something Elaine is revving up a renewed search for her twin sister, Barbara, based on a name she finds scribbled on the back of Philip's card: Kay Devereaux. Meanwhile, she is remembering her childhood. Steinberg's Boyle Heights is the quintessential, bordering on stereotypical, early-20th-century Jewish-American ghetto. Elaine's mother, an immigrant from Romania with a dramatic streak, and her father, a shoe salesman who had to quit high school despite his love of literature after his older brother died in World War I, head the cast of colorful relatives as Elaine's stories pile on a glut of dramatic coincidences and family lore that may or may not be true. At the center of Elaine's memories is her relationship with Barbara. As children, the twins were inseparable even though Barbara was social and lively, Elaine quiet and smart. By high school, the sisters were moving in different directions, Elaine toward scholarship and idealism, Barbara toward the Hollywood world of entertainment. They both loved the same boy, Danny, who loved both of them in different ways. Then, in 1939, after an event Elaine is loath to remember, Barbara disappeared. Despite raising provocative questions about twinship, Jewish identity, family roles and betrayal, Steinberg's attempt to combine a heartstring pulling, realistic family saga and film-noirish mystery-solving feels unsatisfying and slightly bipolar.
From the Publisher
Advance praise for The Tin Horse
 
“Steinberg, the author of five mysteries, has transcended genre to weave a rich story that will appeal to readers who appreciate multigenerational immigrant family sagas as well as those who simply enjoy psychological suspense.”—BookPage
 
“Steinberg . . . has crafted a novel rich in faith, betrayal, and secrecy that explores the numerous ways people are shaped and haunted by their past. . . . A sweeping family saga reminiscent of the writing of Pat Conroy, where family secrets and flashbacks combine to create an engrossing tale of growth and loss. Highly recommended for fans of family drama and historical fiction.”—Library Journal
 
“Steinberg’s quietly suspenseful novel is compelling by virtue of her sympathetic characters, vivid depiction of WWII-era Los Angeles, and pinpoint illuminations of poverty, anti-Semitism, family bonds and betrayals, and the crushing obstacles facing women seeking full and fulfilling lives.”—Booklist

“In the wry and witty voice of retiree Elaine Greenstein, author Janice Steinberg brings the bygone Jewish immigrant L.A. neighborhood of Boyle Heights to vibrant life. Part mystery, part sister story, part family history, The Tin Horse is a completely immersive reading experience. I closed the pages feeling as though I’d lived another life.”—Margaret Dilloway, author of How to Be an American Housewife
 
“Steinberg’s novel introduced me to a dramatic piece of L.A.’s history through the story of the Greenstein family, set in prewar Jewish Boyle Heights. Fascinating and meticulously rendered.”—Janelle Brown, author of All We Ever Wanted Was Everything

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679643746
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/29/2013
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 192,098
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Janice Steinberg is an award-winning arts journalist who has published more than four hundred articles in The San Diego Union-Tribune, Dance Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. She is also the author of five mystery novels, including the Shamus Award–nominated Death in a City of Mystics. She has taught fiction writing at the University of California, San Diego, and dance criticism at San Diego State University. A native of Wisconsin, she received a B.A. and M.A. from the University of California, Irvine. She holds a blue belt in the Nia dance-fitness practice and teaches weekly classes. She lives in San Diego with her husband.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Interviews & Essays

Letter to the readers:

I recently encountered the appealing idea of "watershed books"—books that get you through a rough time. In a study in Britain, people said they chose classics like Pride and Prejudice and One Hundred Years of Solitude. My watersheds were also classics—the noir mystery novels of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, which I read out of a desire to identify with tough, fearless protagonists.

Alas, reading noir fiction did not make me tough. Among the hard-boiled men and fast women, there was just one, very marginal character with whom I felt a kinship: an unnamed woman in Chandler's The Big Sleep. Philip Marlowe, the detective, wants information about a sleazy Hollywood bookseller. He enters a legitimate bookstore and flashes a badge at the woman working there, and she and Marlowe engage in crisp intellectual parrying, in which she gives as good as she gets.

The woman is reading a law book, which is intriguing in itself in a novel published in 1939. And she's described as having "the fine-drawn face of an intelligent Jewess," a phrase that struck me with its profound sense of otherness, as if she lived in a very different Los Angeles than Marlowe. And I felt hungry to know more about this nameless woman. What was her story? What was her Los Angeles?

Like many novelists, I love doing research, and I began by exploring the second question: what was her Los Angeles? I discovered Boyle Heights, a neighborhood east of downtown that, in the 1920s and 30s, was the Jewish part of L.A. As I was researching, I started hearing the woman's voice in my mind—not as the young woman in the bookstore but as a vibrant, opinionated octogenarian. She was talking to a young person—an archivist? So she'd had a life, perhaps related to the law book she was reading, that merited archiving. And I gave her a name: Elaine Greenstein.

Then came the difficult question: what was her story? I'm an outliner by nature. I like to know where I'm going. But Elaine's story resisted my attempts to lay it out in advance. And if that pushed me into a disorienting limbo, it was also liberating. When I started writing about Elaine's childhood, what came out first was her grandfather's story. I discovered that she lived within a fabric of stories, some of dubious veracity, and ultimately that led to the idea at the core of the book: that we construct our reality and give meaning to our lives by the stories we tell—and believe—about ourselves. In a sense, they're our personal watersheds.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 13, 2013

    This is a story about the malleability of memory and of how Trut

    This is a story about the malleability of memory and of how Truth is in the eyes of the beholder. It is a story of the family ties that bind us and those that can tear us apart. Set against the backdrop of the rise of Hitler, anti-Semitism, and World War II, this story explores the emotional fallout of those events on Jewish-Americans and their families. The characters are well-developed, and the dialogue helps to flesh them out. The historical details are fascinating and well-researched. The plot is suspenseful and complex -- moving back and forth in time -- yet easy to follow and understand. This is much more than a mystery or detective story. It raises thought-provoking questions about memory, truth, families, and about the broader implications of the Holocaust for modern Jewish identity.


    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 29, 2013

    The Tin Horse is a sweet look at real people living their lives

    The Tin Horse is a sweet look at real people living their lives in Los Angeles in the 20's and 30's. The protagonist, now much older,
    is looking back on her childhood. In current time, she's trying to find her twin sister who left the family.
         Who else lived in Los Angeles in the 20's and 30's? Philip Marlowe, the detective in the Raymond Chandler noir mystery series. 
    It turns out that Elaine Greenstein, from this book, is a minor character in Chandler's The Big Sleep. Philip Marlowe, from that book,
    gets to be a minor character in this one. Fun!!
         The main attraction of this book is the wonderful detail of the stories and interactions of the characters. I came to care for them, and
    feel like I really knew them. There's a very touching incident towards the end.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted March 9, 2013

    Mixed feelings about this novel.

    Questions about boundries remain after reading this book. Why were some characters celebrated when they were not noble - just users of others?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted March 4, 2013

    AWESOME READ

    I LOVED THIS BOOK!!!!! The book is very well written with an interesting plot and very in depth and likable characters. I could not put this book down until I finished it and have thought about it often since finishing it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 12, 2013

    This book would have benefited from some good editing. The story

    This book would have benefited from some good editing. The story was interesting, but the author does not take you deep into the
    characters. Everything felt superficial. My book club had a more interesting discussion of their own family secrets than the book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 30, 2013

    My book club really enjoyed this book

    Our book club reads titles of Jewish interest, and this was certainly a very Jewish story. I'm happy to see that it has garnered a more broad, mainstream appeal and will be enjoyed by a more diverse group of readers. I think the author did a good job maintaining the story's authenticity while still explaining terms and customs that might not be familiar to some. It was a good, compelling story. The author used a "flash back" method to draw the past and present storylines together. I didn't mind it, but some of our group found it confusing. I thought it was an easy read. It dragged a little in a few spots, but there was never any doubt I would see the story to it's conclusion. The ending was a little "Hollywood", but then, why not? The Boyle Heights/LA/Hollywood setting was part of the appeal of this book. I definitely reommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2013

    Take a walk

    Join Elaine Greenstein on a walk through history in Boyle Heights. Meet her family and get to know the neighbors. Good family saga.

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  • Posted March 30, 2013

    Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings At the heart is

    Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings
    At the heart is this family that is struggling to find their way. With sibling rivalry, the Depression, and cultural issues, the book was slam packed with history to share; I was able to learn about a whole subset of our United States and the places they called home. A theme that showed up quite often is the belief that even though siblings can grow up in the same home and family, their stories and recall of the shared history will be different. Elaine's recollection of some of the stories was different than her sisters, either due to the age of each sister or the different relationship they each had with mother and father. I definitely take this with me and realize that my sister was raised in the same home, but had completely different experiences in the same home than I did.

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    Posted March 7, 2013

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    Posted August 23, 2013

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    Posted October 11, 2014

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    Posted September 13, 2013

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