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Being Esther

3.48  ·  Rating Details ·  347 Ratings  ·  105 Reviews
In spare, refreshingly unsentimental prose, Miriam Karmel has given us one of literature’s finest portraits of the last days of a woman’s life. At once sad and amusing, unpretentious and ambitious, Karmel’s fiction debut brings understanding and tremendous empathy to the character of Esther Lustig, a woman readers will recognize and embrace.

Born to parents who fled the sht
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published April 4th 2013 by Milkweed Editions (first published January 1st 2013)
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This delightful book is about Esther, age 85, and her last few months before her death. She as real as any character I've ever fallen in love with. She has some regrets, some joys, and a whole lot of opinions. She's a normal woman who had a normal life. a normal marriage, a normal motherhood, but there is a spark to her that just won't fade. She's the same person she's always been, as she sees it, though admittedly older, creakier, slower. A simple life is not a boring life--not by any means. Th ...more
Apr 05, 2013 Lisa rated it it was ok
I found Being Esther to be a marvelous, five-star character study, but I could only give it two stars as a novel. Esther eloquently and elegantly personifies the joys and struggles of old age, but nothing actually happens. Esther has complex relationships with her husband, daughter (her son is barely mentioned), and friends, but the ups and downs of those relationships seem to go nowhere - no insights, closure, or change.
RH Walters
Mar 16, 2013 RH Walters rated it really liked it
This close study of an 85 year old woman is almost like science fiction with its enchantments and terrors, homey familiarity and startling awareness of the present. It also contains one of my favorite lines "I didn't make the world." No one writes about people like Esther, so thank you, Miriam Karmel.
Bonnie Brody
Apr 19, 2013 Bonnie Brody rated it it was amazing
Esther Lustig is an 85 year-old woman living independently in urban Chicago. She has a daughter, Ceely who would like to see her in an assisted living facility, a place that Esther calls ‘bingoland’. Esther also sees assisted living as the ‘land of the living dead’. Independence is very important to her and she wants to preserve it as long as she possibly can.

Esther is the child of parents who escaped from a Polish shtetl. She was always the good girl. Even in her marriage of 50 years to her now
Aug 28, 2015 Tara rated it really liked it
Shelves: our-book-club
This book really caught me by surprise. I picked it up at the local library where I volunteer, intrigued by the write up on the back. As a woman in my mid-forties, I've become very contemplative of how quickly time seems to be going by. It seems like my twenties weren't so long ago, yet here I am, double that age now. It makes me wonder if one day I'll be thinking the same exact thing when I'm in my eighties about my forties. This book not only deals with time and the inevitable process of aging ...more
Aug 16, 2014 Iva rated it really liked it
A real charmer on many levels. Though Karmel lives in Minneapolis, she knows Chicago so well that it is an essential element for enjoying the book. Esther is 85 and doesn't want to move to assisted living as her family thinks she should. She likes her life just as it is. Her life becomes more narrow as her friends don't remember her; she isn't allowed to drive anymore, but she has fond memories of her husband and her earlier life. Karmel has written quite a fresh view of aging in this first nove ...more
Susan Weinberg
Apr 30, 2013 Susan Weinberg rated it it was amazing
Wonderful character study of the thoughts and inner life of an 85 year old woman who has lost her husband and many of her friends. She is still herself, albeit "a slower, achier, creakier version of the original", but contends with the patronizing attitudes that many have towards the elderly. I was quickly drawn into the book and soon found myself caring about Esther. I love first novels that work and this one does.
Jul 11, 2013 Carrie rated it it was ok
Depressing book about 85 year old Esther, whose daughter is trying to convince her to move into a Home. The book is full of Esther's meandering thoughts. As reader we get to experience Esther's mind wandering, with no clear sense of the order of events. I don't know what the author intended the reader to take from this book; to me I was eager just to get out of the unlikable Esther's head.
May 20, 2013 Brian rated it it was ok
This book fell a bit flat for me. Esther is an 85 year old widow who is trying to live out the end of her life. She has two kids, and she is trying to stay out of a nursing home. The characters were a bit flat, and while I thought Esther was a cool character, overall, I didn't connect with her and felt the book was a chore to get through.
Cynthia Vander Woude
Jan 29, 2015 Cynthia Vander Woude rated it really liked it
I would have liked to have given it a 4.5. Many areas in the book reminded me of Olive Kitteridge, which I loved.
Oct 16, 2014 Bre rated it it was amazing
Omg. So amazing. An awesome character study, with depth and humor. It was absolutely charming. I would definitely recommend this!
Jun 11, 2017 Amy rated it really liked it
Perhaps this is the kind of book that either appeals to you or doesn't based on where you are in your own life. It makes you think deeply about aging and relationships between mothers and daughters. Esther recalls her relationship with her own mother and we experience the tension between Esther and her daughter. Although I felt it was an easy read it wasn't necessarily a quick or gripping read. Yet, I felt the book had something important to say.
May 08, 2017 ☕Laura rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned-books
Ratings (1 to 5)
Writing: 4.5
Plot: 4
Characters: 4
Emotional impact: 5
Overall rating: 4.375
Courtney Maum
Aug 21, 2014 Courtney Maum rated it it was amazing
This is such a tight, funny, quiet, sad and unpretentious book about aging. Written from the point of view of an 85 year old Jewish Midwestener, the prose is reminiscent of Deborah Eisenberg's, especially in its humor, but it is more nuanced, less neurotic, more reigned in. I highly recommend this lovely book even though it left me feeling quite sad.

Here's an excerpt where Esther is describing her son-in-law:

"At times like this Esther finds herself scrutinizing Lenny's face, as if after all thes
Magdalena Wajda
Jan 14, 2016 Magdalena Wajda rated it really liked it
I have found this book by chance, in a "book sale" bin at the local supermarket. I thought my mother might like it, as it speaks of a person her own age. After reading, I realized I'd not give this to my mom to read, but it has helped me to understand my mom better.
Esther is 83 years old, her husband died some time ago, she is alone, living by herself. Her daughter wants her to move into "assisted living", which Esther calls "Bingoville". As she visists a friend who lives there, she realizes pe
Mar 23, 2015 Verena rated it really liked it
Being Esther by Miiriam Karmel is a reminder that old age is not for the faint of heart. It can mean a loss of physical and mental capacity, dignity, old friendships, and stature in the family. Memories loom large, bringing back scenes of happier times, as well as disappointments, regrets, and sadness.

The author achieves this through the voice of Esther Lustig, who at 85 years old, finds the prospect of moving out of her home and into "bingoville" more frightening than leaving life on her own te
Carol Stowe
Sep 21, 2014 Carol Stowe rated it it was amazing
Esther Lustig is an 85-year-old widow. Her daughter seems to have little time for her and her son is making financial bad choices. Her arthritic hands can no longer wield a nail file or sew on a button with ease. Her friends are ill or deceased and life is getting too complicated for her. But her long-term recall is rich with good and bad memories. Those memories come unbidden in the middle of present activities and cause people around her to ask if she is all right.

I think this book makes a con
May 31, 2015 Gwen rated it it was ok
As Esther Lustig defends and settles into her apartment in Chicago, while her daughter wants to move to Bingoville, she recalls earlier times with her husband and family. As with many women of her generation, her life was confined, and defined, by who and where she was -- a middle-class Jewish woman, first generation American. Her aspirations for herself, and her life, may have been thwarted or foiled, but she seems to take little responsibility for that, blaming instead her husband and others. ...more
Feb 08, 2013 Quiltgranny rated it liked it
As my Goodreads friend, Jackie, from the Tattered Cover in Denver writes in her review:

"This delightful book is about Esther, age 85, and her last few months before her death. She as real as any character I've ever fallen in love with. She has some regrets, some joys, and a whole lot of opinions. She's a normal woman who had a normal life. a normal marriage, a normal motherhood, but there is a spark to her that just won't fade. She's the same person she's always been, as she sees it, though admi
Samantha Carpenter
Sep 14, 2014 Samantha Carpenter rated it really liked it
What a marvelous, mature debut about 85-year-old Esther Lustig. I appreciate how well we get to know Esther through snippets of her life as a widow in Chicago. As she hosts dinner for her granddaughter Sophie or attends a community class with her neighbor Lorraine, we grow close to Esther because she never leaves us; rather than using flashbacks to convey information, Karmel simply makes us privy to Esther's thoughts, memories, and opinions as she navigates a world diminished by age. We experien ...more
Apr 25, 2014 Terry rated it liked it
Recommended to Terry by: Janet Hanafin
Shelves: fiction, book-club
Karmel's novel presents an in-depth look at a single person, Esther Lustig. Esther is an 85-year old widow, whose thought processes are made transparent as she alternates between distress at the physical and, even worse, mental diminishing of her life's interaction with the world. The reader shares her memories as she reflects on a basically unremarkable life. She would not wish to relive her life, but she considers it satisfactory. Since everything about the present and future is filtered throu ...more
Jul 05, 2013 Becky rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
You can read my full review here: http://mysistersbookkeeper.blogspot.c...

I can't say I've read a book before that has entirely been about old age. There is not too much plot to this book but there is a lot of character development. I really enjoyed Esther's character. She made be laugh at times and other times I felt sorry for her. I think the last paragraph of the book jacket really sums it up. The author really does help us understand what an 85 year old woman is going through and it makes us
May 21, 2013 Jennifer rated it liked it
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. The author's insight into how it feels to be mid-80's, unable to do many things that have been part of a full life, and how hard it is to be "invisible" to others, including some family members, rang true and was beautifully articulated. The only thing that kept this from 4 star rating was the ending........unrealistic, leaving me feeling that the author ran out of storyline and had to figure out an ending quickly. A really good editor would have ...more
Apr 21, 2015 Diane rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
Short but powerful, especially for a person like myself who is nearing 70 and thinking about what more aging will be like as the body changes, independence is curtailed, living arrangements change. Growing old is not an easy matter and Esther struggles to be herself in the midst of vulnerability and alienation. I liked Esther, but sometimes wanted to shout "You are being too passive!" even when she was defying her daughter and at the same time trying to get her attention. It made me think more c ...more
Jan 04, 2014 Pat rated it liked it
Esther Lustig is an elderly Jewish woman who anticipates her demise with frequency. She has led a remarkably uneventful life, has survived her emotionally-distant husband, has a somewhat contentious relationship with her daughter and, apparently, has not much interaction with a son who lives in another state. Esther goes through her list of life-long acquaintances in order to reconnect with long-held memories; this exploration leads to some information that is difficult for Esther to assimilate. ...more
May 15, 2016 Janet rated it it was amazing
This was a wonderful read about the last few months of Esthers life. She had a typical life of a Jewish housewife and mother in the 50-60's, with the usual ups and downs. She has lost her husband, many friends and is looking towards what the future holds. I found this to be so sensitive and touching, beautifully written, with so much insight into what people are feeling. I thought the characters were all so accurately described- I felt like i knew all of them. It is sad but beautiful and touchin ...more
Jul 16, 2013 Linnet rated it really liked it
Esther is 85. Almost all of her friends are gone, her daughter is encouraging her to hand over the car keys and go to assisted living. When the young man at the deli counter asks if she's decided what she wants: "If she were to tell him, would he believe her? She wants one more morning with Marty beside her in bed. She wants to wake up each morning with a sense of purpose. She wants her daughter to stop pushing brochures on her. She wants her son to straighten up and fly right. She wants to be s ...more
Jan 08, 2014 Erin rated it liked it
Dear Esther. This book was about having grown very old, and how your world becomes so much smaller in the process, you feel alone and isolated and so many of your good friends have passed away...... it is not a book you should read if you are struggling with aging. However, although I did skim here and there, I did like Esther, and I did like her spunk and her unwillingness to want to go to "bingoville"..... something many of us will have to deal with eventually, and not something I believe too ...more
Mar 09, 2014 Linda rated it it was amazing
Awwwwwww... I heard all good things about this lovely book, and I was not disappointed. In succinct, perfect prose, it delineates the pain - and the comforts - of memory, of growing old, of a life lived. How lovely.

There is hardly a word wasted, hardly a thought uttered that does not ring true. It is a beautiful story about a woman who dared not break out of the mold of her era, yet lived a fruitful life after all.

And yeah, she stuck the ending. I was afraid, getting near the end, that it would
Dec 03, 2013 Jennifer rated it really liked it
This is book on the challenges of aging and the complexities of family relationships is both poignant and funny. I loved the feisty 85-year-old narrator, Esther, and the language is wonderfully evocative while still remaining completely down-to-earth (my only complaint in this area is that the author used the simile "like handling quail's eggs" three different times in a book of less than 200 pages, which jumped out at me, but that's a quibble ... maybe says more about me than it does about her) ...more
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A journalist and freelance writer, Miriam Karmel has published writing in AARP The Magazine, Minnesota Women’s Press, Bellevue Literary Review, and Minnesota Monthly. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Sandisfield, Massachusetts. Being Esther is her first novel.
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“These older women knew their place, staying tucked away, fading into the background. Mostly, they tended the kitchen, where they learned to make themselves indispensible.” 0 likes
“What's more, she lacked the good sense to understand how our lives are enriched by the minor interactions that present themselves every day.” 0 likes
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