THIS WEEK’S OTHER FEATURED BOOKS, “WOMAN PUTTING ON PEARLS,” BY JEFFREY BEAN AND “THE HOUSE OF WRITERS,” BY M.J. NICHOLLS, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST, OR BY CLICKING THE AUTHOR’S NAME ON OUR AUTHORS PAGE.
THE BOOK: Blue Thread
PUBLISHED IN: 2012
THE AUTHOR: Ruth Tenzer Feldman
THE EDITOR: About a dozen editors helped to shape this. Thanks to them all!
THE PUBLISHER: Ooligan Press, which is affiliated with Portland State University. Ooligan staff also study toward a Master’s degree in publishing.
SUMMARY: It’s 1912 in Portland, Oregon. Sixteen-year-old Miriam Josefsohn strives to work in the family print shop, but her parents refuse. They insist on grooming her to be a desirable match for a suitably rich and established bachelor. Angry and afraid, Miriam throws herself into the campaign for Oregon women to gain the right to vote. She meets Serakh, a mysterious woman who helps Miriam to discover a prayer shawl with a single blue thread, the Josefsohn’s hidden and forbidden heirloom that transports Serakh and Miriam thousands of years into the biblical past. Miriam meets five sisters—the daughters of Zelophehad—who insist that Miriam has been sent to help them in their struggle for women’s rights. But what can she do? And will she find the courage to fight for her own future?
THE BACK STORY: After I finished Blue Thread, that biblical character Serakh continued to capture my imagination. She remained bound to the Josefsohn family and the pursuit of justice across time and space. Blue Thread became one of three companion novels for young adults and older readers. The Ninth Day (Ooligan, 2013) entwines Berkeley, California, in 1964—when LSD was legal and political speech on campus was banned—and Paris in 1099, after the First Crusade. Seven Stitches (Ooligan, 2016) returns to Miriam’s old house in Portland, in 2059—a year after a catastrophic earthquake—and transports us to the sultan’s harem in 16th-century Istanbul. Serakh remains a key character in all three, but each book is a complete story and the three can be read in any order.
WHY THIS TITLE? The biblical book of Numbers contains a passage that instructs people to wear a garment of fringes with a blue thread to remind the wearer to do what’s right. What if one very particular blue thread could take you across time and space in pursuit of justice?
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Blue Thread and its companions offer a unique blend of well-researched historical fiction and mind-expanding sci-fi and fantasy. The context is Jewish; the struggles and triumphs are universal. Blue Thread received the Leslie Bradshaw Award for Young Adult Literature; the American Library Association listed Blue Thread as one of the best feminist books for teen readers.
“In the spirit of Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic, with a mix of historical details about the women’s suffrage movement and early printing tied together with a very Jewish thread of historical continuity.”—Kirkus Reviews.
“Hooray for Miriam! Just the kind of young woman I like—curious, compassionate, intelligent, independent, and determined. Her story is told in Blue Thread, a wonderfully written novel about her struggle to be herself, to be honest, and to be just. In an intriguing blend of fantasy and historical fiction, Miriam finds the battles of the past informing her present and inspiring her future. I cheered her efforts, her courage, and her rewards—and so will you.” —Karen Cushman, author of Newbery-medal winner, The Midwife’s Apprentice.
AUTHOR PROFILE: I grew up on the East Coast, where I raised two children, wrote bills for the U.S. Department of Education, and wrote ten non-fiction books (mostly history and biography) for children and young adults. Then I had the urge to change perspectives and stretch the truth. Now I live in a city nestled between an active volcano—Wy’east (Mt. Hood)—and the Cascadia earthquake subduction zone along the Pacific Coast. I still enjoy history, and I’m a stickler for digging into the “facts” in search of truth. But now I am have found a place world that feeds my soul and my imagination.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: My mother was born in 1920, the year that the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution gave women across the country the right to vote. I grew up wondering why women, among other groups, had for so long so little control over many laws that affected their lives. I also grew up fiercely protecting the vivid imagination that has kept me company my whole life. History and fantasy seemed the perfect match for Blue Thread, my first book of fiction. Miriam grew out of my curiosity about the women’s movement in Oregon, my newly adopted home. What if Miriam met the biblical character, Serakh, and faced the ethical commandment to pursue justice? I let the weaving begin, and soon Blue Thread came into being.
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER THREE:
Mrs. Jenkins had most of the day off on Sundays, abandoning me to leftovers until dinner, and to my parents from morning until night. I took my time coming downstairs to face them in the library.
Mama studied me head to foot and stopped cranking the Grafonola. “Good morning at last.” She had an edge to her voice. “Rigoletto or Carmen?”
I headed for the tea biscuits and lemon curd. “Carmen,” I muttered, although to me one opera record was about the same as another. “It’s only half past ten. Are there plans for today?”
Papa turned a page of The Morning Oregonian without looking at me. “Your mama wishes for an outing to the Washington Park Zoo in the Oldsmobile. I will indulge her until a quarter before two, when I go to the Club.”
Even though Papa grumbled about muddy roads and every-man-for-himself intersections, he kept his word, and we left shortly after breakfast. I had no say in the matter and felt as caged in as those poor grizzly bears at the zoo. We also stopped at the statue of Sacajawea striding westward with her baby on her back. I read the inscription aloud: “Erected by the women of the United States in memory of Sacajawea, the only woman in the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and in honor of the pioneer mother of old Oregon.”
I pointed out that [my teacher] said Abigail Scott Duniway and a whole passel of suffragists attended the statue’s unveiling at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition. “Even Susan B. Anthony was there,” I told my parents. Not that it did any good. Oregon women still couldn’t vote.
Papa looked at his pocket watch. “[She] filled your mind with useless politics,” he said.
I clamped my mouth shut and climbed into the Oldsmobile. Papa cranked the motor and we bumped our way back home. As soon as we arrived, I headed upstairs in search of those fringes Serakh said my parents should have given to me. Gold tassels, not blue ones, dangled from Grandma Goldstein’s silk shawl. Forget that. I tiptoed into the guest bedroom, breathed in the sweet cedar aroma of Mama’s hope chest, and commenced to rummage through it. Buried under a bolt of brocade were two silver candlesticks, an embroidered linen tablecloth, and several lace doilies. No fringes, nothing in blue. Mama stayed home the rest of the day, making it impossible to snoop around. …
Mama insisted on taking me shopping Monday for more clothes for the New York trip. She bought me a hat- pin with a pearl stud, yet another pair of white gloves, and a lacy handkerchief. Accoutrements she called them—French for doodads. We dined out for lunch, though, and for dessert I ate an entire éclair—which is French for the most delicious pastry on Earth.
The smell of fresh bread lured me to the kitchen the next morning. Mrs. Jenkins was adding something to sourdough starter. “I feed you up good, Miss Miriam, but you never gain an ounce.”
“Keep trying,” I joked. I took two sweet rolls from the sideboard and reached for the crock of butter. I figured my luck with staying slim made up for my prominent nose and blotchy complexion.
Mrs. Jenkins asked, “Did you read about the daughters of Zelophehad?”
“Not in the Bible, not yet. But I read an article about a suffrage march and it mentioned those daughters. I don’t know why. Voting rights for women is on the ballot in November. Do you think it will pass this time?”
“Can’t rightly say.”
I offered Mrs. Jenkins one of her own sweet rolls. “Well, do you want it to pass?”
“Don’t mind if I do,” she said, meaning the roll. She set the starter aside and served us coffee. “Ladies’ Home Journal is against women voting. Big magazine like that, who am I to say otherwise?”
I added evaporated milk to my coffee and imagined [my teacher] lecturing Mrs. Jenkins on the need for women to think for themselves. “What did Zelophehad’s daughters do? The ones in the Bible I mean.”
“As I recall, they wanted a place of their own in Canaan— the Promised Land.” Mrs. Jenkins took two lumps of sugar. “When Mr. Jenkins and I came to Oregon in 1898, we called our farm New Canaan. We were so blessed!” She dabbed her eyes with her apron. “He passed away two years come December. Our boys have the farm now.”
I offered her my handkerchief. “Do you have any daughters?”
“Married off, thank the Lord. Ethel’s in Oregon City and Harriet moved to one of them new homes in Laurelhurst.”
Marrying off daughters. Not my favorite subject. I finished my roll, excused myself, and headed to the parlor, where Mama was playing the piano. She raised her cheek, and I kissed it while she continued to play.
“ This sonata is impossible to master by Thanksgiving,” she said. “I should never have agreed to that benefit recital.”
Mama was playing fine, as far as I was concerned. I followed along on the sheet music and turned the page when she nodded. When she finished the sonata, she started on scales again. I wondered about Tirtzah, and those daughters, and the fringes Serakh insisted I had.
“May I borrow your wedding Bible? I don’t think Papa has a Bible in English.”
“It’s packed away with my bridal gown. Why do you want it?”
“Just to look up something.” I picked at a fingernail. My search for that shawl had turned up nothing. Perhaps Mama had it. “Is…um…anything else packed away for me? Another shawl, perhaps?”
Mama didn’t skip a beat. “There’s not another shawl, but I have started on your wedding trousseau.”
“Mama!” Was MARRIAGEABLE MAIDEN stamped on my forehead today?
She glanced my way without stopping her scales. “Don’t roll your eyes at me, young lady. You’ll meet some very charming gentlemen this winter—Guggenheims and Schiffs. You should keep an open mind. You’re nearly seventeen, as old as I was when I met your father. He was already a successful businessman, cultured, debonair…he was my German Prince Charming.”
I’d heard it all before. She neglected to add that Papa had been thirty-two—nearly twice her age—and losing his hair. Time to escape. “I’m going to the Stark Street Library today,” I announced, determined to sound as sure of myself as that odd girl at the temple. I couldn’t stop thinking about her.
Mama started back in on the sonata with renewed fervor. “We’ll take the streetcar together. I have a luncheon with friends at the Portland Hotel.”
“It was perfectly fine for me to take the streetcar to [school] and back every day for three years,” I said. “Now you never let me go anywhere alone.”
“Young women do not go gallivanting around the city. You should know by now how important it is to avoid a compromising situation.”
I couldn’t help my temper. I knew it was useless to talk back to Mama, but the thought of being chaperoned everywhere until I could be suitably settled with some “charming gentleman” set me on edge. “Oh, jolly. I’ll be a prisoner in my own house until you and Papa marry me off.”
Mama pounded out one last chord. I crossed my arms over my chest. One long moment of silence wedged itself between us.
“We’ll go to the library together and you’ll come straight home on your own.”
“We’ll go to the library together and you’ll come straight home on your own.”
LOCAL OUTLETS: Available through your independent bookstore nation wide. My favorite three independent bookstores in Portland, Oregon are Powell’s, Broadway Books, and Annie Bloom’s Books.
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
PRICE: $12.95, print; $4.99 e-book.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: I am eager to hear from you!
FB at Ruth Tenzer Feldman Books