In the opening scenes of The Tin Horse: A Novel, we meet Elaine Greenstein, sorting through boxes that hold the memorabilia of her life and the lives of her parents.
Elaine has had a rich and full life as an attorney, and the causes she took on have made her something of a celebrity in her ranks. A young man named Josh, an archivist, is helping her decide which of her mementos to donate to USC . Because Elaine is finally leaving her home in Santa Monica for Rancho Manana, a retirement home that she has dubbed the Ranch of No Tomorrow.
Elaine’s wry sense of humor comes through as she tells the story in her first person narrative. A story that sweeps across the miles and the years to the homes where her ancestors lived, in the Europe of the Nazi years. Starting over in the Jewish communities of America would be like a fulfillment of their dreams. But what happened to each of them, including the struggles, the bigotry, and the reversals, would inform their lives forever.
Moving back and forth with the story, we are sometimes in the present as Elaine moves and settles into her new life. And then we move backward, watching as the answers begin to unfold. We learn many of the secrets, fears, dreams, and longings of the first and second generations of the Greenstein family. And when the secrets are revealed, we see the betrayals beneath them.
What has created the special link between Mama and Barbara? What is the significance of the tin horse? And how will Barbara’s impulsive behavior lead to something she does right after their high school graduation? How will her actions leave a hole in Elaine’s heart, and change the choices she makes from then on?
What will Elaine discover in the boxes that ultimately provides answers about her sister, and how will she finally discover what happened to her?
Richly layered with history, emotion, and the complex tapestry of family life, this is a story with true-to-life characters and settings that fully engaged me. Five stars.