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Reviewed by Romuald Dzemo for Readers' Favorite
How to Make a Life: A Novel by Florence Reiss Kraut is a beautifully written historical novel that explores family themes and the challenges of emigration. It starts with the migration of Ida and her daughter, Bessie, from Ukraine to America in 1905. They believe they are moving to greener pastures, leaving behind a painful situation. Readers are introduced to the family line as it grows, but it experiences turmoil and challenges that they never expected. Bessie’s children have to deal with the mental illness of her daughter, Ruby. Jenny develops a love affair with her brother-in-law, and Ruby’s daughter runs off. The family also experiences death. Can this family heal and find unity amidst the vicissitudes that life throws at them?
Florence Reiss Kraut’s novel is a saga that follows a family through many decades as they struggle with different challenges. The international setting is well-written and at one point, I found myself asking the question: Must we move somewhere else to find life, or do we create it where we are planted? The theme of emigration is skillfully handled and many emigrant readers will find strong resonances with the themes and the characters. The author writes about family and how new cultures affect family dynamics and she does so in a wonderful way. The prose is gorgeous, the narrative voice compelling and hugely observant. The relationships are well-handled and they feel real to readers. There are pathos, realism, and humanity infused in the writing and I found it easy to relate to the characters. How to Make a Life: A Novel is a spellbinding family saga with strong shades of history; it is engrossing and fast-paced.