Being Esther: A Novel

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9781571311054: Being Esther: A Novel

A wonderful fiction debut, Being Esther gives voice to Esther Lustig, an extraordinary woman who has lived a conventional life, in this touching exploration of aging.

In spare, unsentimental prose, Miriam Karmel provides readers with one of literature’s finest portraits of the last months of a woman’s life. Sad and amusing, unpretentious and ambitious, Karmel’s prose brings understanding and tremendous empathy to the character of Esther Lustig, a woman who readers will recognize and embrace. Born to parents who fled the shtetl, Esther Lustig has led a seemingly conventional life marriage, two children, a life in suburban Chicago. Now, at the age of 85, her husband is deceased, her children have families of their own, and most of her friends are gone. Even in this diminished condition, life has its moments of richness, as well as its memorable characters. Being Esther reflects the need, as Esther puts it, for better roadmaps for growing old.

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From the Inside Flap:


Growing old is one of the most surprising things that has happened to her. She hadn’t given it any thought. Then one day, she was eighty-five. She is old. Not just old, but an object of derision, pity. Is there any use explaining that she is still herself albeit a slower, achier, creakier version of the original?” from Being Esther

Born to parents who fled the shtetl, Esther Lustig has led a seemingly conventional life marriage, two children, a life in suburban Chicago. Now, at the age of eighty-five, her husband is deceased, her children have families of their own, and most of her friends are gone. Even in this diminished condition, life has its moments of richness, as well as its memorable characters. But above all there are the memories. Of better days with Marty, her husband. Of unrealized obsessions with other men.

As she moves back and forth through time, Esther attempts to come to terms with the meaning of her outwardly modest life. As a young woman, she wondered about the world beyond the narrow, prescribed world she inhabited. Now, cruelly, she can’t help but wonder if she has done anything for which she will be remembered.

At once sad and amusing, unpretentious yet wonderfully ambitious, Miriam Karmel’s debut novel brings understanding and tremendous empathy to the unforgettable Esther Lustig.

A journalist and freelance writer, Miriam Karmel has published writing in AARP The Magazine, Minnesota Women’s Press, Bellevue Literary Review, and Minnesota Monthly. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Sandisfield, Massachusetts. Being Esther is her first novel.

From the Back Cover:


Praise for Being Esther

A novel about an eighty-five-year-old widow living in suburban Chicago may not sound irresistible, but thanks to Karmel’s beautifully precise prose, her absolute fidelity to her characters and their vicissitudes, and her keen wit, Being Esther is impossible to put down. What a wonderful debut.”
Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy

Being Esther is a small masterpiece, every detail unerring. I wanted Esther to move in next door so we could play two-hand bridge and mix drinks with names like South Side Sling or Not Your Aunt Nellie. I would coax her to tell me about the boys before Marty and about the Starrlights. In Esther, Miriam Karmel has created a character one will never forget nor ever stop loving.”
Faith Sullivan, author of The Cape Ann and Gardenias

Miriam Karmel’s Esther is such a lively and attentive companion that I loved viewing the world through her eyes. Her acuteness challenges anyone who imagines aging only as diminution and a fading sense of self. Looking back, looking forward, Esther is curious, wryly funny and always (sometimes painfully) honest.”
Rosellen Brown, author of Before and After

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