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.
Ilana Stanger-Ross also has a blog. Check it out.
By the way, I won this ARC from Penguin Canada. Thanks Penguin.