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Beyond the Pale [Paperback]

Elana Dykewomon
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 7 2003
This sweeping, brilliant, richly textured novel has already won the Lambda Literary Award and the Ferro-Grumley Award. The Village Voice raves, "One of the most compelling novels I have ever read ... a work of remarkable importance." Now this underground classic is being released across North America in an updated and redesigned edition. Set in the early 20th century, Beyond the Pale follows the lives of two women who are born in a Russian Jewish settlement (the "pale" of the title) and immigrate to New York's Lower East Side. One extraordinary section of the book deals with the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in which many young women died. This is a magnificent and accomplished work that takes us deep inside diverse worlds-the Russian pogroms, the immigrant experience, the New York suffrage movement. But at its heart is the most universal story of all: the devotion of one person to another. Here is an enduring tale of the triumph of love and courage over inhumanity. "Sensuous, moving, inspiring: Beyond the Pale is a wonderful novel."-Sarah Waters, author of Fingersmith "Truly great novels aren't written very often, but Beyond the Pale deserves all the glowing adjectives available ... filled with memorable scenes and glorious characters." -Bay Area Reporter

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From Amazon

Elana Dykewomon's Lambda Award-winning novel Beyond the Pale announces itself to the world with an infant's scream--"a new voice, a tiny shofar announcing its own first year." The midwife attending this birth is Gutke Gurvich, a half-Jew with different colored eyes and a gift for seeing into the spirit world. Beyond the Pale is Gutke's story, detailing her odyssey from a Russian shtetl to a comfortable Manhattan brownstone. But, as Dykewomon puts it, "Whenever you tell the story of one woman, inside is another," and this rich, multilayered novel is also the story of Chava Meyer, the baby girl Gutke delivered that day, as well as the story of the important women in both of their lives: mothers, sisters, neighbors, lovers, friends. After seeing her mother raped and killed during a particularly vicious progrom in her native village of Kishinev, Chava immigrates to America. There, on Manhattan's Lower East Side, both she and Gutke find themselves involved in the nascent labor union and suffrage movements. Dykewomon has clearly done her research here, and Beyond the Pale presents a beautifully detailed account of life among turn-of-the-century immigrant Jews, from classes at the Henry Street Settlement House to the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Through the lens of several lesbians' lives, Dykewomon draws a portrait of an entire Diasporan community living through the terror and uncertainties of both Russian progroms and life in the New World. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The pale was a marker outside the Russian towns where Jews were forced to live, but neither separation nor integration protected them from pogroms, which continued into the 20th century. Into this world, midwife Gutke delivers baby Chava in 1889. They meet again after emigrating to New York City, when Chava is a young adult. Dykewomon, author of the classic Riverfinger Women (1974), has written a page-turner that brings to life turn-of-the-century New York's Lower East Side, with its teeming crowds, its sweatshops, the Henry Street Settlement House, and events like the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire. Chava becomes active in the Women's League and is confronted with its racism and anti-Semitism. Gutke, married to a woman who passes as a man, shows Chava (and today's readers as well) one way that women made their lives with other women in the pre-Stonewall era. Infighting and lack of vision among progressive groups, immigrants torn between assimilation and preserving the traditions that define them?these issues are as pressing today as they were a century ago, and they are well portrayed in this historical fiction. Recommended for all collections.?Ina Rimpau, Newark P.L., N.J.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An Outstanding, Memorable Book - A Joy to Read July 14 2000
One of the most wonderful, beautiful books I have read in the last 20 years. The author has woven a lovely, touching -- and yet, horrifying -- chronicle of Jewish life in the Pale of Settlement in Russia and the tenements of New York in the late 1890's and early 1900's. Some of the language simply takes your breath away. Ms. Dykewomon's command on the language is so outstanding I found myself stopping at sentences and marveling at what she had written. Obviously exquisitely researched, Beyond the Pale makes daily life in primarily rural Russia come alive: with all its beauty and all its horror. I have read no finer, more human-oriented account of a pogrom -- and this is an area of historical interest to me. Ms. Dykewomon's characters do not find the "Golden Streets" of the new world when they migrate to New York. Instead, they discover numbing poverty, bedbugs and rats they were hardly used to in the "old country" and the dehumanization of their lives by the factories and take-home piecework which were necessary for mere survival. The author shows these poor souls as the human beings they are and does a truly outstanding job of detailing how the love, kindness, wants and needs of such people can survive amid terrible conditions. Beyond the Pale is a song; it is a lament. While the major characters and author are lesbians, it would be inappropriate to characterize Beyond the Pale as lesbian literature. For those who would be offended and refuse to read this book because of that, it is your great loss. Read this book and cry when you finish. Both for what happens and because there are no more pages to read. I hope the author, who has published other works, will return to the general theme (or a sequel) in the future. She writes historical fiction at its best.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent work of literature July 27 1998
This is perhaps the best novel I've read in years -- and I'm a college literature professor, so I read a lot. I'll admit that I'm a Jewish lesbian, so the book has tremendous personal resonance for me. But this is a novel that should greatly affect anyone who cares at all about women's history, the Jewish experience in America, the history of the labor movement -- or, for that matter, fine contemporary writing.
I disagree with the earlier reviewers who characterize the book as either flat or overwritten; I can only imagine that as the reaction if you were looking for a hot but not-too-taxing lesbian romance. This is a different kind of book. There is love between women in this book--quirky, believable, and heartbreaking--but it is not a book that makes the drama of what happens in a couple the entire world. This is love immersed *in* the world. I found the book richly and elegantly written, with excellent depth and insight into the main characters. Elana Dyke! womon is also a fine poet as well as a novelist, and this comes through not only in the verse fragments within the book but also the way it circles around a number of recurrent, evocative images. Anyway, I cannot recommend enough that you take the time to immerse yourself in this finely-crafted, large-spirited, woman-centered novel.
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By A Customer
This 404 page book, is somewhat overwritten, but does give an exceptionally good and detailed look at Russian Jewish life in the 1800's.
The book begins in the first person, telling part of the story of Gutke a midwife, and lesbian. We get a flashback of when Gutke was a young girl, and how she and mother survived following the death of the husband---who was not the father of Gutke, as her mother was raped.

Gutke has one black eye and one gold-flecked eye, which makes her unusual. She has a bit of gypsy blood in her, and sometimes seems to be able to see the future of certain babies she delivers.

As a child, Gutke, and her mother surive thru the kindness of a woman who owns and runs a Jewish bathhouse in a small Russian town.

There Gutke discovers the lesbianism of two of the patrons of the bathhouse. Later she goes and lives with one of the women, only as a friend, and thru her, meets Dovida.

Dovida is a lesbian woman who has disguised herself as a man.

She and Gutke continue this, coming to America eventually where they live as husband and wife.
However, Dovida and Gutke's relationship is never examined in much detail. Nor are we ever privy to Dovida's youth and her experiences.
Or how Dovida manages to get away with her disguise, and how it went for her entering the country of America disguised as a male. The fact this is not examined was disappointing to me as a lesbian reader.

Featured more prominently in the book is Chava Meyer, and her cousin Rose. Chava's story begins when she is quite young, and it is some time before any lesbian romance or exploration of the lesbian side of her nature is explored or discussed at all.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Read !!!! April 15 1998
Wow, what a great book. The story is quite captivating. It was interesting to me how the main character's lives ended up inter-twining. Not only was the story interesting but it gave you a peek at the atrocities that went on in Russia in the late 1800's and in America in the early 1900's. It makes you think, well it made me think, how far we have come as a nation and how far we have yet to go. I think the author focused not only on lesbian relationships but also on women as a whole. The relationships between Mothers and daughters, between Fathers and daughters, the relationships between women in general and the lot in life that women seem to perpetually get, each of these things added up to make the book as interesting and as appealing as it was. I cannot recomend this book enough. Whether you are a lesbian or not or whether you are Jewish or not, if you are a woman - this book is a MUST read.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars So much to learn
I finished Beyond the Pale more than 4 weeks ago, yet it is still resonating within me. The author's writing style is wonderfully rich. Read more
Published on Feb. 15 2004 by MB
5.0 out of 5 stars Just Beautiful
Amazing story about amazing women. Also about the Jewish identity. The author mentions that she wanted to tell a story of Jewish persecution outside the Holocaust, to show that it... Read more
Published on Jan. 24 2004 by Elizabeth K. Roth
5.0 out of 5 stars Endurance, love, and stalwart courage
Opening in the early years of the twentieth century, Beyond The Pale by Elana Dykewomon is the engaging story of Gutke Gurvich and Chava Meyer -- two Russian Jewish women who go... Read more
Published on Jan. 17 2004 by Midwest Book Review
5.0 out of 5 stars a beautiful book
Beautifully told. Please refer to Jewett62's review, she really says it all. I just needed to add my 5-star rating!
Published on Oct. 30 2001 by "iremembersky"
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond the Pulp
Elana uses the themes of love, loss, family, tradition, and religion to weave a novel that tackles life's core issues and illuminates several historical time-periods. Read more
Published on March 9 2001 by Jennifer Wiley
5.0 out of 5 stars This is not your father's Ellis Island story.
Dykewomon's latest novel is intricate and well-researched. It was a treat for my mind and my heart. Prospective readers should know that Beyond the Pale is no ordinary cotton-candy... Read more
Published on Dec 2 1998
2.0 out of 5 stars Well-researched, but falls flat
This is an important story which needs to be heard, which means it also deserves to be written well. Read more
Published on July 20 1998
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful!
At last, good lesbian fiction with a fascinating historical basis set in turn of century Russia. The characters were well developed and the story flowed beautifully giving an an... Read more
Published on June 11 1998
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