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Cousin Bella the Whore of Minsk - a memoir
This is a family memoir, a story told to me by the central character, Cousin Bella. Cousin Bella is the story of an elderly relative who as a girl was sold into prostitution by her step mother in Tsarist Russia, and who was liberated by my forceful grandmother. Bella went on to a life in America on the Lower East Side of NYC that was even more dramatic than her early years, events full of drama and deception. When Bella raised another woman's child as her own it led to remarkable and tragic consequences for all involved.
Reviews
Playwright and screenwriter Yellen shares the story of his elderly relative, the titular Cousin Bella, who grew up in czarist Russia. Once Bella’s father died, her stepmother sold her to a brothel, from which she was rescued by the author’s grandmother. The family moved to America, and Bella met up with a former client, who married her. They are happy together at first, except for their inability to have children. When a lodger in Bella’s apartment leaves her daughter behind, Bella falls in love with the child and takes her as her own, eventually lying to the mother and feigning the baby’s death in order to keep her. However, that act has tragic consequences, as the lodger’s son comes to ask questions about his mother, and then falls in love with his sister, finally marrying her. Bella is forced to reveal her deception and in the process loses her relationship with her adoptive daughter. Yellen’s family story is incredible, and the reader is drawn in almost at once. Bella’s story is told in a matter-of-fact manner, enhancing the believability but making readers wish for a richer storytelling experience to dramatize all the facts. That said, readers who want to learn more about the New York City of the early 20th century will find this to be a compelling and intriguing read. (BookLife)
A literary critic's praise for COUSIN BELLA - THE WHORE OF MINSK

"With his playwright's precise ear for the nuance of the spoken work and a novelist's gift for the colors, smells and sensations of another era, of the things of the world as they actually were, Sherman Yellen has created a small masterpiece....Yellen has given us the Jewish-American immigrant experience more vitally and persuasively than any writer since Isaac Bashevis Singer."*

*Christopher Davis, novelist and critic, Senior Lecturer in the Arts emeritus Bryn Mawr College, nominee for the National Book Award and author of several studies of world literature.


 

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