The Orphan’s Daughter by Jan Cherubin
The Orphan’s Daughter is a novel about a woman who grows up in the shadow of her charismatic but troubled father, a man shaped by his boyhood in a Depression-era Jewish orphanage. The two life stories are woven together to form the fabric of this funny and suspenseful work of literary fiction.
Clyde Aronson survives the cruelties of the seemingly bucolic orphanage but is left scarred. Brilliant and self-destructive, a popular high-school teacher and a callous womanizer, he yearns for a son to replace the relationship lost when his father abandoned him. Instead, he fathers two daughters. He resents most the one who most resembles him: the younger, Joanna.
Joanna Aronson is thirty, alienated and living in Southern California when she learns of her father’s puzzling illness. She returns home to Baltimore to help care for him. In the process, the two reconcile; Joanna struggles to come to terms with her own difficult history. Clyde promises to leave Joanna his collected papers, including a secret manuscript written long ago about life in the orphanage.
After Clyde’s death, Joanna’s stepmother inherits the house and all of his possessions. She refuses Joanna any access. Determined, Joanna breaks into the house and steals the manuscript. The stepmother presses charges.
Though fictional, The Orphan’s Daughter is based upon the time, from 1924 to 1934, the author’s father spent in the Hebrew National Orphan Home in Yonkers, New York.
This evocative novel incorporates a strong female voice, contemporary feminist themes, Jewish cultural history, and a nostalgic sense of place. By turns wrenching and delightfully humorous, The Orphan’s Daughter is a deft melding of history and psychological drama, a literary page-turner you won’t want to put down.
Year first published: 2020