The Tin Horse, by Janice Steinberg, Is a book that involves two sisters and their interactions, beginning with their childhood in the Jewish neighborhood of Boyle Heights, CA, during the 1920s-1930s.
Assimilation is at the forefront of the novel. Along with that, Family dynamics family dynamics plays an important role, as the sisters’ lives are experienced differently within the Jewish family unit, and within the Boyle Heights environment. Along with familial interactions, the reader is taken to a time period that is somewhat tumultuous. The Jewish, Russian, Japanese, and Mexican immigrants were competing with native-born citizens in every arena of life.
Elaine Greenstein relives her childhood, with its secrets, flaws and truths, after coming across a piece of paper in a box of her deceased mother’s belongings. The paper has only an address on it. Is it the last known address of her twin sister Barbara, who ran away from their home, sixty-years earlier? The search begins. Will the mystery unfold and be solved?
The address not only sparks the need to search for the mystery surrounding the disappearance of her sister, but it also evokes memories of times past. Elaine begins tracing her immigrant family ancestry, and finds several surprises within her research.
The need for assimilation is often cause for ambition and for attributes that are forced upon us by societal mores and perspectives. Barbara, although Elaine’s twin, has different ideals and desires than Elaine. They are radically different goals. The Hollywood dream and all of its glamor and dazzle has gripped and enticed her.
Elaine, on the other hand, is more conservative, and doesn’t give in to the world of actors and actresses, and all that is involved within that realm. She is studious and has goals of going to college and becoming a lawyer. And, she did fulfill those goals.
The Tin Horse is filled with individuals who are genetically bound, yet often feel as if they are not a part of the whole. Assimilation and identity takes its toll on the Greenstein family. Old customs don’t often blend with the new. Jewishness and its encompassing traditions are held together with barely any forcefulness, by a slight few individuals. Family divisions end up in loss, yet also the yearning and love for answers is an ever present aspect of the story. Redemption can be had.
I applaud Steinberg for her dedication to researching this time period in Southern California. Her results are vividly depicted within the pages. The reader has their senses filled with the aromas of the delis, the clothes of the time, the household interiors, the city life with cultural mores and cultural differences. Daily life interactions, both inside the house and the external activities are portrayed with vibrant word-images. The reader can replay, in their mind, the settings with full details due to Steinberg’s masterful writing. The Tin Horse, by Janice Steinberg, although a book, is almost like taking a trip back in time, a travelogue presented to us in full.
I highly recommend The Tin Horse, by Janice Steinberg, to everyone.