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Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite
Many parts of Europe in the early 1900s were strongly anti-Semitic. Lithuania, in particular, was brutal towards its Jewish population. Helen (Hinde while she was living in Lithuania) was the oldest girl of a large Jewish family. To escape persecution, the family decided to immigrate to the United States. First, the father immigrated, then Helen, followed by her brother, Max, who at twelve risked being drafted by the Tsar’s army and enduring years of hardship and brutality only because he was Jewish. The remainder of the family came later. It was a hard life in Lithuania and a difficult and long journey to freedom in the United States, but the family was no stranger to hard work and their powerful sense of family saw them through difficult times.
Mary Helen Fein’s novel, Stitching a Life: An Immigration Story, is a work of creative nonfiction; part historical fiction, part memoir. The author has taken her grandmother’s story, someone she held in the highest regard, and created a compelling, exciting adventure from her life’s story. The story traces young Helen’s (Hinde) journey to the United States and the hard work that followed, along with the friendships and romance that developed along the way. The characters are well developed, the setting described with care, so the reader instantly feels a part of the story. There is plenty of dialogue to help carry the story along. Stitching a Life is a passionate retelling of one woman’s journey and a fitting tribute to Mary Helen Fein’s grandmother. I loved it.