Comment: The year
is 1870; the first year of the
Franco-Prussian War. 13-year-old Dina lives
with her mother and sister over her mother's
sewing shop in a small town on the bank of
the River Rhine in the newly (or soon to be
formed) German Empire; but her friend Elise
lives on the other side of the river in
France. One day, Dina is stopped by
soldiers as she returns from an illicit
visit to her friend, and is mistaken for a
spy (not only is she returning from the
enemy's side of the river but she's carrying
a pattern for a new hat, which looks
suspiciously like a map). She escapes, but
it's not safe for her to stay in Germany, so
her mother and sister smuggle her out of the
country on a ship bound for New York, where
her Uncle and family live. Although sad to
be leaving her family, Dina believes that
life in America is going to be a vast
improvement over the drudgery of sewing in
her mother's shop day in, day out. However,
as soon as she enters the top floor of the
five-story walk-up in Brooklyn she realizes
that she has entered another house of
tailors 'no different from my own, except
that it was poorer'.
Dina is quite stubborn and determined not to sew, but realizes that it is the only way that she can avoid being a burden to her new family, and her only chance to earn money for her passage home; but as time goes by she begins to love her new family and make friends, and when crisis looms in the form of her Aunt Barbara and baby niece contracting smallpox, and a fire in their building, Dina is ready to step up to the plate.
This is a great immigrant story that not only illustrates the daily grind of immigrant existence 130 years ago, but also brings to life 19th century Brooklyn (according to one resource I came across, 1 in 7 Americans can trace their family roots back to Brooklyn!) As Barbara Auerbach writing for School Library Journal says, "this novel is rich with believable, endearing characters as well as excitement and emotion.... Sprinkled with letters from home, the story captures the universal immigrant dilemma, 'we would always have a longing to go back, and a longing to stay.'"
I recommend The House of Tailors to children 10+. I read it to our own two children, then 8 and 10, and although it would probably not be a book that they would have chosen of their own volition they both enjoyed it and it gave rise to some very interesting discussions.
This review is from the September 20, 2006 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.
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