The Corset Maker
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Published by: Amsterdam Publishers
Release Date: March 8, 2022
Whoever saves a soul, saves the world
A Parisian Count, a Moroccan arms smuggler, and an orphaned Spanish boy test the convictions and tug at the heart of Rifka Berg, a young Jewish corsetiere from Warsaw. The Corset Maker follows the enthralling life of Rifka Berg leading up to, during, and after WWII.
Born into a pious Orthodox family, Rifka yearns to read forbidden literature and to explore the world beyond the confines of her small community. Her wishes come true, albeit harrowingly, when the tumultuous events of the 20th century take her on a journey for survival. Faced with life and death situations, Rifka must take immense risks. What decisions will she make? Or will circumstances choose for her?
The Corset Maker is inspired by the author's mother and her close friends, all women of immense courage and integrity. Rifka’s personal struggles and dilemmas go to the heart of the major ethical issues and challenges of our times.
Read an interview with Annette about the book
Cover design by the renown architect, Daniel Libeskind
Praise for The Corset Maker
“The Corset Maker is a tale of the twentieth century that celebrates human resilience. It is an enchanting, resonant novel inspired by the life of Dora Libeskind and seen through the eyes of Rifka. Berkovits weaves a story of a quintessential rebel in times of global crisis and war. Threads of Nazism, Anti-Semitism, and sexism make for a compelling, fast-paced narrative that sees a young heroine navigate the world in search of her destiny.”
—Daniel Libeskind, architect; Founder Studio Daniel Libeskind; Author of a dozen books including Breaking Ground and Edge of Order; Berlin and New York
“Annette Libeskind Berkovits has made central moments of twentieth century history come alive. An Orthodox Jewish girl rebels against her family and becomes an entrepreneur only to face anti-Semitism. She travels to Palestine and Spain and France, each time to survive more violence. Love and violence are at the core of this extraordinary novel. Berkovits fills history with romance.”
—John J. Clayton, award-winning author of literary fiction and short story collections. His stories have won prizes in O. Henry Prize Stories, Best American Short Stories, and the Pushcart Prize anthology. Clayton's novels include Kuperman's Fire, What Are Friends For, and Mitzvah Man; Leverett, MA
“The Corset Maker begins in the fall of 1930. Nationalism is surfacing as Europe teeters. In Warsaw Poland 12-year-old Rifka Berg asks her beloved Ultra-Orthodox father why girls don’t have bar mitzvas. His answer brings about an epiphany that changes the course of her life. Thus begins Rifka’s life’s journey: continents will be crossed, wars will be won, and others lost, there will be love and there will be unspeakable genocide. Even Rifka’s name and identity must change for her to survive, but Rifka’s search for the truth of experience, for the very meaning of life and her place in it will never wane.
Timely and more relevant to today than is comfortable. This is the journey of the hero in the truest sense of Joseph Campbell.”
—Jim Cooper, advertising photographer and author, Funeral in Montauk; Mosfellsbær, Iceland
“The Corset Maker is a compelling story of girlhood, war, survival - and against all odds, a story of finding out who you truly are. It is a beautifully written journey that weaves together the personal and the historical. I was gripped by this unique and courageous protagonist - and found myself alongside her throughout the book. It is without a doubt one of the most fascinating and meaningful books I have read.”
—Rachel Arnow, visual and performance artist, author of Kinder Kalender, All the World From A-Z, and The Wild West; Berlin, Germany
“With her eloquent and captivating writing Annette Berkovits transports one to the riveting saga of survival, resilience, and ingenuity of a young woman from Warsaw, Poland. Set mainly in the twists and turns of the first half of 20th century Europe, The Corset Maker ignites the reader’s imagination of history and brings to life the hard choices and challenges facing young people during that time. The story concludes with an unexpected ending in the last decade of the century. I simply could not put the book down.”
—Zvi Jankelowitz, Director of Institutional Advancement, Yiddish Book Center; Massachusetts
“This sweep of twentieth century European history seen through the eyes of a young Orthodox Jewish woman is a truly gripping read.”
—Joanna Orwin, award-winning author with a strong focus on New Zealand and Maori history. Her latest novel is Shifting Currents, Christchurch, New Zealand
“A vivid narrative that poses an urgent and universal question: how to survive as a woman while balancing personal responsibility, solidarity, and pacifist ideals. Readers first meet The Corset Maker as she rebels against her Orthodox Jewish upbringing in inter-war Warsaw, striking out for independence with her friend to open a corsetiere’s shop. The departure of her elder sister to join Jewish settlers in Palestine and the arrival of Nazism in Poland combine to send her on an odyssey through Israel and Europe during the cataclysms of the mid 20th century. As she encounters danger and suffering and the anguish of an impossible love she is plunged into political and personal conflict. She is constantly forced by circumstances to question and challenge her own deeply held principles, yet her resilience and commitment to the welfare of others continually shine through the darkest moments.”
—Maybelle Wallis, physician and author, Heart of Cruelty; Wexford, Ireland
“What a life. What a story. What a journey! Page after page, a woman is revealed whom I wish I could have met in real life. She is an inspiration to every woman trying to find her very own path.”
—Cilia Ebert, Head of Strategy and Planning, German Federal Ministry for Family, Youth, Women and Senior Citizens; Berlin, Germany
“In The Corset Maker, Annette Libeskind Berkovits gives us a fascinating novel, spanning decades of the history of Europe – from Poland to Spain and France – and Palestine, where the future State of Israel is being born. Through a unique friendship between two women, the author explores profound themes such as feminism and pacifism, while placing those ideas against the stark reality of 20th-century history: the Civil War in Spain or the rise of fascism and antisemitism. The story, set against the ever-present historical and political backdrop, can be read on many levels: the reader is drawn into the rich, powerful, and thoughtful narrative.”
—Philip Jolly, journalist; London, United Kingdom
“Rifka Berg, an intrepid, passionate woman, the protagonist of The Corset Maker, must reconcile her pacifism with the violence engulfing the world. To protect loved ones and emerge intact after WWII, she will have to rely on her wits and skill with a needle. Readers will be beguiled by her story.”
—Sheila Grinell, author of Appetite and The Contract; Phoenix, Arizona
“How does a woman live three different lives in four different countries without ever forgetting her roots? Discover how in this thrilling, action-packed, emotionally resonant novel, full of intense twists and turns.
The rise of antisemitism in Warsaw before WWII will propel Rifka to Paris, Palestine, Spain during the civil war and to the Argèles-sur-Mer concentration camp in southern France. Caught in the whirlwind of history Rifka will always act courageously, adhering to her convictions, and never denying her Jewishness. A truly exciting read taking place during a dramatic period of history that must not be forgotten.”
—Jacques Cousin; Vence, France
“In The Corset Maker readers meet compelling, realistic characters and follow a courageous protagonist as she matures in world torn by violence.”
—Jo Schaffel, author, Somewhere Besides Denver; Tillson, New York
“The Corset Maker is a powerful 20th-century saga filled with great courage and persistence in the face of unimaginable human horror.”
—Historical Novel Society (read the full review)
Selected Reader Reviews
An Absolute Must Read
"Wow, ok where do I begin?! It’s impossible NOT to fall in love with Rifka! She perseveres through situations one simply cannot fathom any human could endure, with a moxie and grit we secretly wish (but wonder if) we had, and
yet still aches with relatable tenderness and humanity. I felt like I was right there with her meeting colorful characters, traveling to exotic places, and experiencing a full spectrum of emotions. There was so much concerning this time in history that, in all honesty, I lacked an understanding of so, I found myself reading, sometimes re-reading to be sure I had digested each morsel. Strap in, it’s historical fiction but the parallels to the present are striking and dare I say a bit haunting?"
—Regina from Ohio
Powerful. Riveting. Important.
“The reader is introduced to Rifka Berg, an ideological, yet determined, young girl who becomes a woman of fierce courage called to act in ways she never thought possible. Through Rifka, we go on a journey from Poland to Palestine, Spain and Paris. We experience the heartbreak and inhumanity of civil war and anti-semitism. We experience love and loss and witness how one woman’s spirit and bravery can change the lives of so many others.
You'll gasp. You'll cry. You'll cheer! The Corset Maker is a must read, particularly at a time when history is repeating itself.”
—Maureen L. from New York
It takes strength and courage to do anything great
“With THE CORSET MAKER author Annette Libeskind Berkovits reminds us all what can be done even in bad circumstances. The characters really do come to life as she weaves this story or determination, resilience and the faith to believe that one can become more and do more. Love the way the story flows and how it shows that even in the face of darkness you can find the light.”
—Cyrus W. from Blog Talk Radio
Echoes of History
“When she began writing her first novel, I doubt that Annette Berkovits could have imagined that current events might parallel the history that she has captured so clearly. I followed the lead characters with great interest and deeply appreciated how she wove them into the dramatic stories of Poland, Israel, Spain, and France leading into and through WWII and its aftermath. Rifka changed the expected course of her life by leaving home and starting her own business. In turn, she was changed by the sweep of world history. Well done!”
—Kathleen W. from Pensylvania