Minna Losk is a 16-year-old Jewish orphan in Odessa in the late nineteenth century. She has been living a life of loss, fear, and poverty and has no hope of a better future in Odessa – but she has one chance of escape. She can offer herself up as a mail-order bride and go to America.
Although there are kindly neighbors who offer advice, aid, and occasional companionship, these neighbors are a long way off. Minna’s world is pretty much limited to the ramshackle farm and the three males in her strange new family. Her betrothed is fussy and devout. Her younger stepson to be is devil-may-care and friendly, but a little annoying. And then there is Samuel. Her eighteen-year-old future stepson is serious, handsome, sometimes helpful, and sometimes aloof. Minna cannot force herself to love the man who will make her his bride. Unfortunately, she also can’t stop herself from thinking about Samuel. She grows increasingly attracted to him – and guesses that the feeling is mutual.
The marriage is inevitable – it’s why she was brought to America. Minna, miserable as she is, tries to make the best of it. At least, she goes through the motions each day without much outward complaint. But it is a bitterly hard life.
Minna learns all too soon that they are very poorly prepared to survive the harsh Dakota winter. Their struggles are painful, almost insupportable. This is no sweet-natured Ingalls family pulling together to make it through the long winter. Within their household and within their tiny community, Minna witnesses examples of cruel selfishness and extraordinary generosity that drive home to her the pettiness of her husband and the intolerable state of her marriage.
The Little Bride by Anna Solomon is a beautifully descriptive book. You’ll experience the incessant rocking of the ship of her transatlantic voyage, and the harsh, bleakness of the frontier landscape right alongside Minna. The characters are vivid and believable. It’s unfortunate that the closer they are to Minna, the less likeable they are. She is always in close quarters with people who have the effect of hardening her more. Minna is not an endearing person. But given the extremely limited options of her world (and thanks to the author’s in-depth exploration of Minna’s character), I was able to understand her choices and actions. Minna is adaptable. Under conditions that would defeat the pluckiest of pioneers, she could pick herself up and head off on a new path.