The Tin Horse
Elaine Greenstein is downsizing to a retirement home, but her life as a fierce civil rights lawyer is important enough that the library at USC is archiving her papers. The sorting that ensues uncovers papers her mother left behind that Elaine did not realize she had—and with them a tantalizing clue to the disappearance of her twin sister in 1939. Set primarily in the Jewish neighborhood of Boyle Heights in Los Angeles in the years leading up to WWII, but deeply imbued with the Eastern European tales of Elaine’s parents and relatives, The Tin Horse offers that rare delight: a sophisticated, character-driven book with a suspenseful, hard-to-put-down plot. The actual tin horse of the title, a tiny, handmade object of tremendous resonance, represents a pair of ideas central to this excellent book: the visceral need to escape from one’s “home” because staying will kill you, literally or emotionally, and the way we present our life narratives to those we love, the secrets we withhold, the mythic quality we endow them with.
Elaine and her twin are remarkably different—in simplest terms, one studious and shy, one wild and outgoing. But simple doesn’t capture what Steinberg has accomplished. She reveals in surprising layers how profoundly these two sisters both do and don’t understand each other and the conflicts and misunderstandings that ricochet around their family as a result. It’s not only the twins who matter in this book. The extended family and close friends in the tightly knit community all get beautifully full treatment as the action unfolds. The role of Elaine’s Romanian immigrant mother and the twists in her story will wham you with their humanity and depth. No clichés here. Highly recommended.