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April 30, 2022

The Corset Maker by Annette Libeskind Berkovits ~ a Review

by MK French

Rifka Berg was born into an Orthodox Jewish family in Warsaw, and she always wished she could see the world outside her community. As a corsetiere, her life would have followed a certain path if the developments leading to World War II didn't happen. Rifka and other women of her community have very difficult choices to make in a world increasingly dangerous to live in.

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book cover of historical fiction novel The Corset Maker by Annette Libeskind Berkovits
March 2022; Amsterdam Publishers; 978-9493231924
audio, ebook, print (448 pages); historical fiction

Annette was inspired by her mother's family history. Her mother was hesitant to speak of her family, especially with the massive losses in the Holocaust, so Annette later pieced together fragments that her mother hadn't deliberately destroyed, and that served as the basis for this novel.

Rifka from the start has a rebellious streak, even with her piety and eagerness to please. Her father recites a prayer every morning, thanking God he wasn't born a woman and is irritated with Rifka asking him for his reasoning. From there, we see Rifka's interactions with her family, her best friend Bronka, her grandmother, and opening the storefront to become the corsetiere. Rifka grows to be increasingly anti-marriage, irritated with those who look down on her for her Jewish heritage, and for Bronka's wish to marry. When she goes off in search of her sister Golda, Rifka has a host of adventures while Bronka stays in Warsaw and experiences the changes coming ahead of the war.

The war spanned throughout Europe, and Rifka carried different identities throughout the decades. This allowed her to care for orphans, work at spycraft, and spirit Jewish children to safety even as she suffered her own losses. She tried to do good wherever she could, even when she doubted her ability to do so. Her skill at making corsets and bras ultimately proved to be a money-making opportunity several times, as well as helped her create the opportunities to help others. Bronka suffered losses as well within the war even though she wasn't on the front lines, encapsulating all that women were subject to when left behind by soldiers. It's an intense story and a wonderful tribute to Dora and the legacy she left behind.

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Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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