We are currently heading towards the 20th century in our history and I have been happily reading Bessie’s Pillow, a new book from Strong Learning, Inc. handily set right at the start of the 20th century.
It wasn’t my time to die back in 1906. The mobs, the murder, the rape. The blood running through the streets of the Pale. I escaped because it wasn’t my time. Instead I lived—a young woman of eighteen years, I traveled to America and escaped the Pale. This isn’t the story of my escape. This is the story of my arrival.
And so begins the masterful retelling of a story so poignant and close to the author’s heart, it feels as if she is whispering into just your ears. This is a story of resilience and a voyage through life which is beautiful in its authenticity, but also in its familiarity. It is one woman’s life song, offering a glimpse into the, often sad, but always true, story of Bessie Markman Dreizen, the author’s own grand-mother. A woman whose own philosophy that “Happiness will always comes again” speaks clearly into the reader’s heart, especially as they learn the difficulties Bessie had early on as a persecuted Jew, fleeing from her home-land of Lithuania to America, and throughout her life as she deals with the losses littered throughout.
The pillow that the title of the book alludes to is given to her as she is boarding the ship to America by a neighbour who asks her to give it to her son who is already living there, and the son who Bessie will meet, fall in love with, marry and begin a new life. The pillow, lovingly handmade, is inscribed with the words ‘May this pillow bring you peace‘. It is this peace, tractability and sheer determination to go through life with fortitude, hope and eyes always looking forward to the day that happiness would come again, which breathes its own optimism into the reader’s own life.
But this is not all. Alongside the book the author has collected a heap of resources to help the whole period of the early twentieth century come alive. For example there is a lovely video of Linda talking about Bessie on YouTube accompanied by some gorgeous photos. Further photos can be found in the Photo Gallery Page which includes a pictorial time line of Bessie’s life. And my favourite of all is a whole page of resources called Bessie’s America which showcases much of the America Bessie would have become familiar with, including European Immigration, Famous People, Food, Recipes, Health, Housework, Movies, Music, Dancing, News, U.S. Presidents and Radio. The author has also collected many immigration stories from her readers, which is a lovely touch. And, just in case you wanted to dig even further (and this could easily be turned into a large unit study), there is a wonderful pdf teacher’s page. This pdf delves a bit deeper into the characters, themes and symbols giving ideas for further research topics.
What Did We Think of Bessie’s Pillow?
I can’t begin to tell you how much I loved this. It captured me from the very first sentence and held me throughout. I cried with Bessie; I laughed with Bessie; but most of all I loved with her. I have no immigration in my past. I am British through and through. We have no family with their own immigration stories. Bessie’s Pillow has filled a void (which I had no idea existed) with a much better understanding of the struggles and hardships which accompany moving away from one’s home-land and having to master a new culture, a different language and a foreign people. It is a book which has opened my eyes, and after reading it I shall never be the same again.
As an international reviewer I was given access to the e-book copy and usually I do not mind this. But Bessie’s Pillow was different. I really wished I’d had a book-in-hand paper copy. This is too good a book to be hidden in the depths of my hard drive.
I have no hesitation in wholeheartedly recommending this book. Go get it. Now!
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