Amy Bloom’s second novel begins with promising brilliance. Around 150 young women are queuing outside the Goldfadn Theatre in New York in 1924, hoping for jobs sewing costumes. The party atmosphere of this ‘all-girl Ellis Island’ reminds Lillian Leyb, who arrived in America thirty-five days ago, of market day in Turov, the nearest town to her village in Russia. She thrusts her way to the front to speak to the theatre’s owner, Reuben Burstein, and his matinee idol son, Meyer, in Yiddish; her rivals are scornful (it’s ‘as if she just hoisted her skirt to the waist … that vulgar, that embarrassing, that effective’), but her potential employers are impressed (‘Bold is good,’ says Reuben).
She smiles at them and their scowling assistant, Miss Morris:
Lillian has endured the murder of her family, the loss of her daughter, Sophie, an ocean crossing like a death march, intimate life with strangers in her cousin Frieda’s two rooms, smelling of men and urine and fried food and uncertainty