February 21, 2009

Sima's Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stanger- Ross: Review

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For three decades, Sima has been running a lingerie shop out of her basement in Brooklyn, New York, helping women with the milestones- big and little- of their lives. She's seen and heard it all but one day a perfect pair of breasts takes her by surprise. They belong to the beautiful Timna, a young Israeli woman looking for work. Sima offers her a job as a seamstress and soon becomes overly involved in the young woman's life. As Timna tells her of her adventures in Israel and New York, Sima takes a look at her own life, the disappointments in her marriage, her inability to have children, the emptiness in her heart and wonders if it's too late for anything more.

There's nothing better than when I fall in love with a book. Sima's Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stanger-Ross is one of those books. The characterization is excellent. Sima and Timna live on the page. I can see Sima standing in her basement handing out wisdom to her clients. What I liked about Sima was how real she seemed. She's far from perfect. She's often jealous, and fretful. I could sympathize with her while wishing that she'd open her eyes to what she has in her life rather than dwelling on what she doesn't. In real life, that's hard for all of us to do.

Since the story is told from Sima's viewpoint, much of Timna's life is a mystery. Where does she go when she isn't at the shop? Like Sima, we can only wonder. A whole book could be written about Timna. She's beautiful but enigmatic and sometimes sad. At times she's a surrogate daughter to Sima but Sima also tries to relive her youth through Timna, imagining what she does with her time. It's so sad and frustrating to watch Sima try to build a mother/daughter relationship with this stranger.

Through flashbacks Sima's life as a young married woman is revealed to the reader. At first, she is hopeful and full of love for her husband Lev but as her obsession with having a baby grows, her marriage starts to disintegrate. It's painfully real. Some of the most awkward scenes are between Sima and Lev. He really takes the brunt of her frustration.

I don't think I can say enough about this book to do it justice. I'm so glad I decided to read it this week. Beautiful writing and honest characters.

Highly recommended

Ilana Stanger-Ross also has a blog. Check it out.

By the way, I won this ARC from Penguin Canada. Thanks Penguin.


11 comments :

  1. Thank you for the great review, Chris. I am definitely interested in this one. You had me at "The characterization is excellent."

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  2. I got this one from Library Thing in pdf format. I've been putting off reading it since I don't have an e-reader and don't want to sit in front of my computer to read a book. Sounds like I need to get to bite the bullet and read it.

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  3. This book sounds fabulous, and I love the title! I'm definitely adding it to my wishlist.

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  4. Thank you, Chris! What a beautiful review...I can't imagine anything better than a reader writing that characters I spent so many years over felt so real. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoguhts, and I am just thrilled you enjoyed it so much. And--a huge amount of my novel was written in Nova Scotia.

    All best,
    Ilana

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  5. Kitty- It's definitely a character driven book.

    Onion- I think you should!

    Alyce- Please do!

    Ilana- Thank you so much for commenting! I loved the NS references. What part of NS did you visit? I'm on Cape Breton Island.

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  6. OH, this sounds great! Is it out yet? I'm off to check..

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  7. What a funny setting for a book. The cover looks like chick lit, but your description sounds like it has depth. Reference to NS will probably make me feel nostalgic, but I think I like that.

    Thanks, Chris for the nice review and bringing this book to our attention. So cool that the author commented.

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  8. Booklogged- No, it's not 'chick-lit'. It's more like women's literature. The themes are pretty serious.

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  9. Upper Kingsburg, on the South Shore. (My in-laws have a home there where I've spent the last 6 summers. I know...Ontarians summering in NS can be a problematic bunch, but I feel so lucky to get to spend time there.) I still haven't made it up to Cape Breton, though always mean to do so.

    The chick-lit issue is an interesting one--yes, the coral cover (and some of the marketing) lends itself to that label. And I feel conflicted about that. On the one hand, it's hard to sell books, so I understand why my publisher would want to hop on the chick-lit bandwagon--especially given the bra-shop setting. And, I like the cover. On the other hand, can't novels with strong female characters be taken seriously anymore? At any rate: so glad to see it being taken seriously here.

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  10. Definitely want to read this one. Thanks for the review!

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  11. This sounds terrific, I really enjoy books that focus on the relationships between women. Thanks for the great review!

    And it's cool to hear where it was written - I spent every summer as a child on the South Shore - a little town called Milton right on the Mersey River- beautiful place.

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