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Beyond the Pale

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  889 ratings  ·  113 reviews
Beyond the Pale — winner of the Lambda Literary Award — tells the stories of two Jewish women living through times of darkness and inhumanity in the early 20th century, capturing their undaunted love and courage in luminous and moving prose. The richly textured novel details Gutke Gurvich’s odyssey from her apprenticeship as a midwife in a Russian shtetl to her work in the ...more
Paperback, 406 pages
Published September 25th 2003 by Raincoast Books (first published 1997)
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Average rating 4.30  · 
Rating details
 ·  889 ratings  ·  113 reviews

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Jul 24, 2010 rated it liked it
My mom bought me this book and claimed she did not know it was about lesbians. Um, check out the author's last name…
Jun 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
I thought this was a lesbian romance novel but it's not. It's a beautiful and heart-wrenching novel that describes the life journey of jewish lesbian women at the turning of the 20th century.
The fact that the women happen to be lesbians is a beautiful secondary layer to the story.
The main focus of te author is to describe the rampant and generalised anti-semitism, sexism, racism and classism that existed at the time both in EU and the US.
It is a great novel and a beautiful surprise.
Jun 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: jewish-history, lgbt
A great and unique story -- you don't often find a novel about Russian Jewish immigrant lesbian women (with some magical realism thrown in). The shifts in point of view felt awkward and confusing at times and it felt at times like the author tried to throw too many historical facts into the book (Triangle Shirtwaist, mention of the Bintel Briefs, Lillian Wald, etc.). However, as the descendant of Russian/Eastern European Jews who likely experienced many of the same events and difficulties the ch ...more
Feb 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I read this book several years ago and it still stands out vividly in my mind as a rich story of Jewish immigration and lesbian lovers. The novel takes place in Russia and NYC's Lower East Side in the late 1800's and early 1900's. It is an epic history of Jewish immigrants and a beautiful story of the relationship between two women amidst the plight of immigration, antisemitism, and the labor and political movements of the early 20th century. It will soon be available in paperback.
Apr 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbt-books
I mean, why didn’t the author just come directly to my house to stab me? That might have hurt less.
Jules Ray
Jul 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was given this book by the publisher for a fair review of the author's work.

Wow! What an amazing work of literature! I am so impressed after reading this book. I couldn't put it down for hours at a time.

The story begins in turn of the last century Russia and the lives of Russian Jewish women who start as girls and grow up in extremely difficult times of strife. The writing style is exceptional and brings you into the world that our women exist in. The world in Russia in the 1800s was more than
Feb 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I was crying like a baby reading the end of this book !!!
I enjoyed the characters, storyline, the innocence of young love mirroring the older couples love for each other. Rose and Chava are cousins. Chava went with her family to America and settled in New York. The book opens with Gutke, a midwife, helping at Chava's birth. I was a bit confused when the book jumped back and forth between the two characters story. But Chava runs into Gutke in the city (small world isn't it) They go their seperat
Oct 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
There are only a few long-form works of lesbian fiction I've ever really enjoyed. This is definitely one of them! Thanks Elana Dykewomon for your fully-realized characters and enjoyable prose, and lack of closeted lesbian police officers with commitment issues.
Ashley Brown Durand
Nov 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my all-time favorites. This is the first historical-fiction I have read, and now I am hooked. I haven't been able to find another book like it. It covered rascism, prejudice, war, child-labor, gender-issues, migration, transgender/lesbian/gay issues, everything! And it's a love story beyond that! And it does it all sooo well. I can't really say anything about this book that would do justice. Read it.
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this book hurt a lot. the prose was beautiful, but i can't stop thinking about how much it hurt. it's rooted in real historical events, some truly horrific things that happened around the turn of the 20th century, and it's a book that really makes you reflect on these things. it's clear that the author is an activist and this book is devoted to the fight for workers' rights in particular, and i think it's powerful in the messages that it conveys. i found this a really absorbing and affecting rea ...more
Jun 24, 2017 rated it liked it
This was an interesting novel of the Jewish diaspora between the late 1800s and World War I. Its unique perspective -- that of the feminine experience, and, in particular, the lesbian experience -- made it worth reading, even though I usually feel I have read enough about the diaspora, in general, over the years.

The three main characters are sympathetic and well-developed: Gutke, the midwife who has a special gift of "seeing" the future; Chava, whom Gutke delivered into this world; and Rose, Cha
Aug 28, 2013 rated it liked it
I very much enjoyed the first half of this book, although the second half wasn't quite as compelling. It made for a great book club selection and I found the struggle of Russian Jews to be a subject that I hadn't known much about. Although this book can usually be found in Lesbian Fiction sections, it's a novel about so much more than that- oppression, political activism, feminism, and finding your own path in life.

Favorite quote of the book:

"There's going to be trouble."
"Just from a piece of
Laura Nowlin
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you're like me and learn history better when narrative is attached, check out this beautifully well written and researched novel of Russian Jewish immigration. Dykewomon takes lots of stylistic risks that work well, and the story told is utterly unique.
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooks, jewish
Interesting story built around real historical events. The lesbian angle gave it an extra dimension.
Deborah Adelman
Oct 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating novel for the lives it brings to its pages and the time period in which it was set. My involvement with this book felt personal, is the women in it are my grandmothers and great grandmothers, and they fled the same violence and oppression and came to the same poverty and struggle, and politicization and commitment to a different order that Chava, the main character develops. The story of Chava and Rose is sweet and tender. The last line of the book left me in tears. I love ...more
Johanna Markson
May 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Beyond the Pale, Elana Dykewomon
The Pale of settlement was a large area in western Russia to which Jews were restricted from 1791 to 1917. In the Pale were cities and small shtetls where Jews worked, lived, loved, married, had children and practiced their religion. But in these lands there was also rampant Anti-Semitism and Jews had their land stolen from them, were forced to leave the only homes they knew, and were sometimes killed and their property destroyed during waves of progroms.
Within th
I really really love this book.
4 1/2 Stars

This is an intense and often painful book to read, although it's full of humanity, deep insight, and heart. It's really more of a saga as it goes through 2 generations of Russian Jews from late 1800's to almost the 1920's.

It starts out with Gutke delivering Chava. Gutke is by then in her 40's and the first half of the book is about her life growing up as she reflects on it up to that moment.

The second part of the book is about Chava, a Rabbi's daughter, and her life from the point o
Christoph Fischer
Jul 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"Beyond the Pale" is an amazing piece of literature, an almost epic historical novel that spans a comparatively short period oh history but covers a lot of ground.
The book tells the interwoven stories of Chava, a Russian girl that escapes a Russian pogrom, and that of midwife Gutke and her female companion who is dressed up as a man.
As we follow their lot through the exciting times and their journey from Russia / Bessarabia to New York we also follow the course of European and World History and
Mar 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Got to thinking about this book the other day when hearing a lot on the radio about the 100th year commemoration of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. This was a favorite among favorite works of historical fiction that I read in the 90's which has come back to me again and again in fragments over the years (which is saying something if you know how bad my memory is). Main character begins as an apprentice to a midwife in a Russian shtetl and ends up a labor unionist and suffragist in New York ...more
Apr 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
An excellent, under-read book. It is about love between women across generations and continents. It's also about Jewish experience in Russia and the U.S., and about the early labor movement. It's moving, not lecturey or overtly political (although it abounds with politics and values), and profoundly compelling. My mom recommended it to her book club at work, and she said all were deeply moved by it.
Mar 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: All literate persons
This book started me thinking about the power of memory in the context of whatever reality might be. I remember these girls as clearly as the time I fell down a wet slide and bruised my butt. Which actually happened? Hmmmm.
Jul 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. Always nice to see historical fiction that steers clear of the ruling class! Given how many novels focus on the Romanovs, this one takes an especially refreshing alternate POV. There's some gorgeous writing here, and it feels very timely and immediate.
Mar 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
I am only giving this 4 stars because it has been so long since I read it and I am not sure if I would like it AS much. I would recommend it though.
Rachel Reaugh
Nov 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
I had no idea what to expect from this book, but I couldn't put it down. It was truly an epic, historical love story of unusual proportions. A must read.
Lisa Wendell
Sep 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting historical fiction tracing the experiences of a Russian Jewish family immigrating to the United States at the turn of the 20th century. Well crafted effort to explore many levels of early immigrant life particularly as it related to young Jewish women and the many hardships that they and their families faced during a time of great political, social and economic upheaval. The author wrote from the standpoint of young women (early feminists and suffragettes) who were fighting for safe ...more
There were many worthwhile aspects to this book.
The characters were interesting and well developed. The main character, Chava was especially admirable and endearing for her intelligence, resilience, sensitivity and grit.
As a Jewish-American woman, this novel helped me better imagine the life of my grandmother's grandmother, and what possessed her to send her 9 year old son (my great grandfather) alone via steerage to America to save him from the pogroms of the shtetl. I also gleaned a glimpse o
Jul 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Beyond the Pale is a wonderfully vivid Coming-to-America novel that illustrates the immigrant experience. Her story takes place at the beginning of the 20th century, but the broad strokes of which are still true today. Chava and her extended family come to the New World to escape persecution, but find that surviving in the big city is its own kind of challenge.

My younger self probably would have dismissed this book as "400 pages of nothing happening" because it isn't terribly plot heavy. Most o
Jun 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: lgbt-stuff, 2019
2.5, probably. But I'll round up because I did find the historical aspects interesting enough to keep me reading. And I found it refreshing that a book about lesbians in the early 1900's focused more on the immigrant experience and labor unions than on any sort of homophobia or queer tragedy.

The problem is this book is desperately in need of a good editor. 85% of the book is told in first person through one character's POV, but then there are these abrupt and confusing changes to third person t
Ginger Miller
Oct 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful, human, amazing, book. The characters are drawn so vividly that they are unforgettable. Chava, a young girl fleeing the programs in the early 1900's Russia, has heard the horrific details of her father's death and watched the brutal death of her mother, moves to America with her aunt's family. An America full of sweatshops and low paid immigrant workers mainly from Russia. It is impossible to write more without giving away too much. She finds a deep amazing love with Rose. A love tha ...more
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Elana Dykewomon is an activist, an author, and a teacher and has a fiercely dedicated readership who have been eagerly awaiting her next novel for a dozen years. One of the finest thinkers—and writers—the women’s movement has produced, she has worked for the last fifteen years as an editor and teacher of composition and creative writing, both independently and for San Francisco State University. ( ...more

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