Winner of the Lambda Literary Award: “A page-turner that brings to life turn-of-the-century New York’s Lower East Side.” —Library Journal
Born in a Russian-Jewish settlement, Gutke Gurvich is a midwife who immigrates to New York’s Lower East Side with her partner, a woman passing as a man. Their story crosses with that of Chava Meyer, a girl who was attended by Gutke at her birth and was later orphaned during the Kishinev pogrom of 1903. Chava has come to America with the family of her cousin Rose, and the two girls begin working at fourteen. As they live through the oppression and tragedies of their time, Chava and Rose grow to become lovers—and search for a community they can truly call their own.
Set in Russia and New York during the early twentieth century and touching on the hallmarks of the Progressive Era—the Women’s Trade Union League, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911, anarchist and socialist movements, women’s suffrage, anti-Semitism—Elana Dykewomon’s Beyond the Pale is a richly detailed and moving story, offering a glimpse into a world that is often overlooked.
“A wonderful novel.” —Sarah Waters
With evocative background detail, this novel by the author of the 1974 lesbian/feminist classic Riverfinger Women follows the lives of two Jewish women who flee Russia after the Kishinev pogrom of 1903. Teenager Chava Meyer, orphaned during the attack, endures an excruciating Atlantic passage with the relatives who have adopted her. In the U.S., she crosses paths with midwife Gutke Gurvich, who had attended her birth. Both women have strong memories of political unrest, anti-Semitism and poverty in Russia, and the narrative alternates the stories of their transformation as they enter a new world and a new century. With the encouragment of Gutke and her cross-dressing lover, Dovida, Chava becomes involved in the trade union movement, determined to improve deplorable working conditions. Ironically, the eventual catalyst for change is the horrifying 1912 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which Chava's cousin and lover, Rosa, is one of the victims. Dykewomon skillfully interweaves historical details--from the conditions of life in Eastern Europe's Pale of Settlement to the mechanics of early printing presses. Questions of Jewish faith and tradition, the socialist agenda and a growing feminist awareness provide the backdrop to this moving chronicle of strength and love that triumph over inhumanity.