Born to parents who fled the shtetl, Esther Lustig has led a seemingly conventional life—marriage, two children, a life in suburban Chicago. Now, at the age of eighty-five, her husband is deceased, her children have families of their own, and most of her friends are gone. Even in this diminished condition, life has its moments of richness, as well as its memorable characters.
But above all there are the memories. Of better days with Marty, her husband. Of unrealized obsessions with other men. As she moves back and forth through time, Esther attempts to come to terms with the meaning of her outwardly modest life. As a young woman, she wondered about the world beyond the narrow, prescribed universe she inhabited. Now, cruelly, she can’t help but muse if she has done anything for which she will be remembered.
At once sad and amusing, unpretentious yet wonderfully ambitious, Miriam Karmel’s debut novel brings understanding and tremendous empathy to the unforgettable Esther Lustig.
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Praise and Prizes
“A novel about an eighty-five-year-old widow living in suburban Chicago may not sound irresistible, but thanks to Miriam Karmel’s beautifully precise prose, her absolute fidelity to her characters and their vicissitudes, and her keen wit, Being Esther is impossible to put down. What a wonderful debut.”
“A small masterpiece, every detail unerring. I wanted Esther to move in next door so we could play two-hand bridge and mix drinks with names like South Side Sling or Not Your Auntie Nellie. I would coax her to tell me about the boys before Marty and about the Starrlights. In Esther, Miriam Karmel has created a character one will never forget nor ever stop loving.”
“Miriam Karmel’s accomplished debut illustrates the bittersweet truth that we live our quotidian lives and we worry about the manner of our leave-taking, but if we’re lucky, we come to understand, as Esther does, that despite our bewilderment at finding ourselves old, ‘our lives are enriched by the minor interactions that present themselves every day.’”
“That Miriam Karmel, who is younger than 85, could capture so well the inner life of the old is a tribute to her powers of observation and empathy. That she could express this life with such clarity and wit is a tribute to her writing skill, for Being Esther is anything but a dirge. It is a delight.”
“Miriam Karmel’s novel of womanhood, the love and strife between mothers and daughters, marital dead zones, and the baffling metamorphosis of age is covertly complex, quietly incisive, and stunning in its emotional richness.”
“Miriam Karmel’s Esther is such a lively and attentive companion that I loved viewing the world through her eyes. Her acuteness challenges anyone who imagines aging only as diminution and a fading sense of self. Looking back, looking forward, Esther is curious, wryly funny and always (sometimes painfully) honest.”