March 22, 2017

Fresh from the Bookshelf: Bessie's Pillow by Linda Bress Silbert {Book Review}

Bessie's Pillow by Linda Bress Silbert {A Review}
In the latest political discussions, there is a lot of talk relating to refugees and immigrants coming to America. One of the great ways to learn about the stories of many such people, is through reading books about the topic. I recently had the opportunity to do just that, when I was given the book Bessie's Pillow by Linda Bress Silbert (available through Strong Learning, Inc.) to review. This story is based on a true story, of a young girl--an immigrant from Lithuania desiring asylum in America during the early 1900's. 

About Bessie's Pillow

Bessie's Pillow by Linda Bress Silbert is based on a true story. The true story of the author's grandmother Basche Markham, a young Russian Jew from Lithuania, who due to the tenuous and combustible political situation in her home region ("the Pale") in 1906, was sent to America by her father (a former Rabbi turned salesman) to live with her half-sister. The immigration happens right in the middle of the ballooning mass of immigrants who arrived on America's shores from 1892 to 1954. Basche--who is given the new AMERICAN name of Elizabeth upon arrival--is one of the few immigrants who travels by first class with few issues...yet she is very aware of the less fortunate of her fellow immigrants and refugees travelling too. The story follows her life from the day of her immigration forward--through her arrival and health inspection in New York to her struggles finding a job and a home of her own. They continue throughout the years as she experiences great joy and great she finds the man of her dreams and a family of her own in a land she comes to adopt as her home.

My Thoughts on Bessie's Pillow

I found that the book begins by tactfully alluding to the atrocities many faced in the region of Russia during the early 20th century--particularly to those of the Jewish faith. You could understand just how horrible it was--but were "spared the details". We still could experience the desperation of the families sending off their daughters and sons--hoping against hope to give them a better life. The book also captures the beginning struggles the new immigrants faced--long before they ever reached the shores of America. It also captures the class system in place, even among people of the same ethnicity or faith. The German Jews looking down on the Russian Jews...and the poor Jews avoided by the rich ones...even in early 1900 America where they don't have the same persecution. 

The author does a great job exploring the struggles faced by newly married couples like Elizabeth (Bessie) and Nathan. It was also interesting seeing how Bessie handled becoming respected in her career ruled by the males. I loved seeing her balance her role as wife and mother, with her helping her husband in his business--and seeing him respect her abilities enough to let her. 

I won't lie. I cried and cried at one point in the book. As a mom, I don't know how I could have avoided it. I also enjoyed watching Bessie grow in her faith and understanding of God's role in her life within the Jewish faith. The extra connection with the pillow someone gave Bessie for her to take to America to deliver, was just an extra thread tying the story all together. 

As an extra note--as a 7th day Sabbath keeper myself, I had an even greater appreciation of her diligence in trying to observe the Sabbath properly. The same for her adherence to biblical food laws--something I too practice. That aspect of my faith, gave me an even better connection with this book, and allowed me to chuckle all the more in her effort to eat Kosher in a new strange land.  

Did you know that the author included old family photographs in the back of the book? Because this is based on the true story of her grandmother (and mother), those just added so much to put faces with names. I also like how the Strong Learning, Inc. also provides links online to take the book farther. You can see diagrams of the ships Bessie and her brothers traveled the Atlantic on, you can see her immigration sign-in at Ellis Island, learn more about the famous people she crossed paths with, find recipes, learn about health issues mentioned in the book, and much much more! This is a great way to turn this simple novel into a whole UNIT STUDY if you wanted to. Wouldn't that be handy for a book report?

I would say the reading level of this book is geared for the 5th grade+, but the information is definitely geared more towards the older teen and adult with it's focus on Bessie's life at the age of 18+ and into her marriage and children. 

I would use this book as part of a study of early 20th Century America and any immigration studies. The book additionally talks about life for the more wealthy class during the Stock Market Crash of the 1920's and subsequent era of Depression, to the start of WW2, and beyond. 

This is a great book--I think that adult women would probably find it the most interesting, unless you have a history loving teenager. I don't really think of this book as being geared towards the boys--much like the Diary of Anne Frank isn't as much a "boy" book. I would definitely add this to any early American literature collection--it gives valuable insight into basic home life during the early to mid 1900's. Also a great reminder that the Jewish faith had troubles that began long before Hitler rose to power. 
Available in Paperback and Kindle

Want to Know More?

I have enjoyed reading Bessie's Pillow from Strong Learning, Inc. and encourage you to snag a copy for yourself. It's well worth the read.  
Bessie's Pillow {Strong Learning, Inc. Reviews}
You can learn more about Strong Learning, Inc. and Bessie's Pillow on Twitter and Facebook.
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