Book review: Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon

'This often erotic book is full of revelations, tension and excitement.'


Behind the narrative of Leaving Lucy Pear lies an age-old question from which so many stories are derived: who do we really belong to? In Anna Solomon’s absorbing tilt at it, Bea Cohen, a 17-year-old unmarried mother, leaves her new-born baby girl under a pear tree — hoping poachers take her and thereby save her from the cold strictures of the state orphanage.

It is 1917 in Gloucester, New England. A clever, wealthy, only child of an aspirational Jewish couple, Bea lodges in the Gatsby-style home of her recently widowed uncle Ira, whose socialist convictions make him happy to have his crop of Braffet pears — imported from Sussex, England — burgled on an annual basis by poor people who arrive silently in boats for their illicit harvest .

Bea waits in the dark with a powerful whistle she intends to blow should any of the pear-stealers threaten her child. But just when she thinks they have missed the baby, swaddled in her aunt’s shawl, one of the children finds her:

“Slowly her eyes adjusted and she saw the pears themselves, their waxy orbs glowing greenly in the three quarter dark. . . the people were gentle thieves and they were Irish, they would know, she decided, how to care for babies.” Then the young thief’s mother comes over: “she dropped her face into the blanket as if sniffing, but the woman was already decided. She knew the story of Ruth even if Bea didn’t.”

Lilian, Bea’s mother, tries to propel her into college life but the attempt to attend Radcliffe trussed in a brace to contain her distended stomach, is a disaster. Bea leaves to become an advocate of abstinence in the prohibition movement, campaigning for women to withdraw sexual favours from husbands who refuse to renounce the demon drink. On one occasion, she visits Emma, a mother of nine children, who unbeknown to Bea, saved her child and brought her up as her own — Lucy Pear. This dark-haired duplicate of her mother lives near her. Like Lady Dedlock in Bleak House, on visits from her uncle’s grand house Bea nearly encounters her daughter, yet by a deft plot twist, Emma, mother of a gaggle of fair-haired children, is introduced to the Cohen family as a helpmeet to the failing Ira. Her love for her adopted daughter, a dynamic 10-year-old, won’t allow her to reveal what she knows.

This book tells much about American life before the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the brutal working conditions of immigrants living in fear of the ever-present strike-breaking scab labour employers deployed.

Shadowed by the tragic fate of Sacco and Vancetti — Italian-Americans held on death row for years on trumped-up charges and finally electrocuted despite worldwide protest — two women beset by personal suffering nonetheless embody the essence of motherhood. Suffused with the spirit of the age, this often erotic book is full of revelations, tension and excitement.

Leaving Lucy Pear is published by Blackfriars (£8.99) 

Anne Garvey is a freelance writer

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive