The Dressmakers of Prospect Heights
By: Kitty Zeldis
Publication Date: 12/06/2022
My Rating: 5 Stars
“A haunting meditation on the bonds between mothers and daughters. Zeldis offers a fascinating look into historic New York City and New Orleans, and her skill as a storyteller is matched by her compassion for her characters. What a beautiful read.”—Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Magnolia Palace
“By turns heartbreaking and heartwarming, Kitty Zeldis’s The Dressmakers of Prospect Heights, set against the backdrop of the not-always-so-roaring Twenties, is an only-in-America story of reinvention, rising above tragedy, and finding family.”—Lauren Willig, New York Times bestselling author of Band of Sisters
For fans of Fiona Davis, Beatriz Williams, and Joanna Goodman, a mesmerizing historical novel from Kitty Zeldis, the author of Not Our Kind, about three women in 1920s New York City and the secrets they hold.
Brooklyn, 1924. As New York City enters the jazz age, the lives of three very different women are about to converge in unexpected ways. Recently arrived from New Orleans, Beatrice is working to establish a chic new dress shop with help from Alice, the orphaned teenage ward she brought north with her. Down the block, newlywed Catherine is restless in her elegant brownstone, longing for a baby she cannot conceive.
When Bea befriends Catherine and the two start to become close, Alice feels abandoned and envious, and runs away to Manhattan. Her departure sets into motion a series of events that will force each woman to confront the painful secrets of her past in order to move into the happier future she seeks.
Moving from the bustling streets of early twentieth century New York City to late nineteenth-century Russia and the lively quarters of New Orleans in the 1910s, The Dressmakers of Prospect Heightsis a story of the families we are born into and the families we choose, and of the unbreakable bonds between women.
Master storyteller Kitty Zeldis returns following Not Our Kind with THE DRESSMAKERS OF PROSPECT HEIGHTS —a haunting and moving story of the bonds between three women in 1920s New York City and the secrets they hold.
Set against the backdrop of the Roaring Twenties, an emotional story of reinvention, rising above tragedy, and finding family.
Moving from nineteenth-century Russia to the brothels of New Orleans in 1910 and landing in New York City in the 1920s,
Brooklyn, 1924. We meet three different women whose lives are about to connect unexpectedly.
Recently arrived from New Orleans, Beatrice is working to establish a chic new dress shop with help from Alice, the orphaned teenage ward she brought with her.
Down the block, newlywed Catherine is restless in her elegant brownstone, longing for a baby she cannot conceive.
When Bea befriends Catherine and the two start to become close, Alice feels abandoned and envious and runs away to Manhattan. Her departure sets into motion a series of events that will force each woman to confront the painful secrets of her past to move forward.
Three women whose lives are bound by a secret history are forced to make irreversible choices to survive.
The author crafts a beautiful historical fictional account of maternal love, friendship, and loyalty. From the strong bonds of women, friendship, loss, despair, and forgiveness.
Zeldis eloquently captures the essence of the time and place with vivid settings and richly developed characters.
If you enjoyed Not Our Kind, you will love THE DRESSMAKERS OF PROSPECT HEIGHTS with its stunning historical settings, fashion, and customs!
INSPIRATION BEHIND THE NOVEL: Check out the letter from the Author below.
My Rating: 5 ⭐ Stars
Pub Date: Dec 6, 2022
"A haunting meditation on the bonds between mothers and daughters. Zeldis offers a fascinating look into historic New York City and New Orleans, and her skill as a storyteller is matched by her compassion for her characters. What a beautiful read."
— Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Magnolia Palace
"THE DRESSMAKERS OF PROSPECT HEIGHTS by Kitty Zeldis is gripping historical fiction at its very best. Three women whose lives are bound by a secret history are forced to make irreversible choices in order to survive. Moving from nineteenth-century Russia to the brothels of New Orleans in 1910, and landing in New York City in the 1920s, Zeldis doesn’t miss a beat. She weaves an exquisite tale filled with love, loss, despair, and forgiveness, as her richly developed characters tackle the difficult decisions one must make and the repercussions of those that are made for you."
— Lisa Barr, New York Times bestselling author of Woman on Fire
"The Dressmakers of Prospect Heights is a page-turner about dreams dashed and rediscovered, secrets kept and revealed, and the redemptive power of love. The three women at the core of this unforgettable journey—from early 20th century Russia and New Orleans to 1920s New York, and from loneliness to belonging—will work their way into your heart."
— Meg Waite Clayton, bestselling author of The Postmistress of Paris and The Last Train to London
"By turns heartbreaking and heartwarming, Kitty Zeldis's The Dressmakers of Prospect Heights, set against the backdrop of the not-always-so-roaring Twenties, is an only-in-America story of reinvention, rising above tragedy, and finding family."
— Lauren Willig, New York Times bestselling author of Band of Sisters
“Every single page of The Dressmakers of Prospect Heights is filled with life. And in this beating heart of a book are three unforgettable women who show grit when reckoning with their painful pasts, grace when navigating vibrant 1920s Brooklyn, and glee when discovering their second acts. It’s a timely reminder of how strong women are—and how much stronger we are together.” — Karin Tanabe, author of A Woman of Intelligence
"The Dressmakers of Prospect Heights is a novel of vivid heartbreak and vibrant hope. Kitty Zeldis deftly winds her way through early New York, capturing the city at a time of limitless possibility with female characters as intriguing as their setting. Full of captivating language and nimble storytelling, The Dressmakers of Prospect Heights compels us to examine what it truly means to be someone’s mother or someone’s child, and whether we can ever be forgiven for the mistakes of our past."
— Lynda Cohen Loigman, author of The Matchmaker's Gift and The Wartime Sisters
“With lush descriptions of the fashions and customs of the day, Zeldis places readers in 1924 Brooklyn . . . Readers of Fiona Davis and Beatriz Williams will delight in this story about the strong bonds of women and motherhood in a rich historical setting.” — Booklist
“Zeldis’s characters are well crafted and the narrative propulsive. Historical fiction fans will be drawn to this snapshot of an era less often portrayed in the genre.”
— Publishers Weekly
“With themes of betrayal and love, followed ultimately by hope and new beginnings, Zeldis has written the type of historical fiction that book groups love.”
— Library Journal
“An intriguing and occasionally heartbreaking novel that's perfect for historical fiction fans."
— Kirkus Reviews
Letter From the Author
This is not a review--it's my own book!--but I did want to share the backstory with you, so here goes. I do hope you'll put this novel on your want-to-read list and I would love to visit your book club or group to talk about it more. Writers are nothing without readers, and so each and every one of you is precious to me!
In the case of The Dressmakers of Prospect Heights, there were two distinct stories that were operating in my mind and I had to find a way to weave them together, like braiding a challah bread.
The first of these was New Orleans, a place that figures importantly in the background of one of the central characters, Beatrice Carr. I first visited the city in 1988 and fell instantly in love. The look of it, the melange of cultures—Southern, French, Spanish—the food, the music, the history, all contributed to its appeal.
After that trip, New Orleans was on my radar so when I came upon the book Empire of Sin by Gary Krist, I dove right in. It was from Krist that I learned about Storyville, or The District as it was also called—a designated area in which prostitution was legal during the years 1898-1917. Not only legal, but on full and lavish display, as Basin Street, which was across from the railroad station, was lined with brothels, one more opulent than the next. Their owners—often women—became celebrities of the demi-monde, important individuals who wielded influence and power.
Prostitution was a huge business that in turn helped fuel other businesses as hundreds of musicians, cooks, waiters, servants and more were needed to keep the wheels turning. Guides to sin city were published and these so-called Blue Books, widely available, were designed to inform the constant influx of tourists and pleasure seekers about the vast array of choices that were available. Although filled with ads for the various houses of ill repute as well as for restaurants, cafes, clubs etc. the Blue Books were chiefly a listing of prostitutes.
One of the entries read like this: Caucasian, twenty-one, Jewish. Jewish! This was news to me. As an Ashkenazi Jew myself I had heard many immigration stories, stories in which those who were chased out of the old country found their way to a new one. But the story of a Jewish prostitute in New Orleans was not something I’d encountered before and since I am a novelist, not a historian, I decided that I wanted—no, needed—to imagine my way into such a life and in doing so, write it.
I set about researching, trying to make the period real in my own mind so that I could make it real in the minds of my readers. I read all that I could find, looked at scores of old photographs, and made another trip to New Orleans. Soon a character began to emerge—a young Jewish woman, far from home and cut off from family and friends, who finds herself pregnant. Dismissed from her job and without a husband or home, she finds work in a brothel, first as a maid, later a prostitute and eventually a madam, with a house of her own.
The other strand of this story—or part of the challah if you will—comes from my grandmother, Tania Brightman. She was an unhappy, difficult woman, prone to terrifying outbursts of rage. She was also a troubled and even traumatized soul who did not fully understand the impact of her tragic past and how it had shaped her, much less expect any help or solace. I did not like her and as I grew up, found it easy to distance myself from her; we lived in different states.
So when she died, I was wholly unprepared for the flood of grief and regret I felt. I wished I had been more patient, more understanding, more loving. Of course it was too late to make amends to her.
But writing, as I have long thought, is a form of redemption, and it was through my writing that I could reframe her story, giving her the dignity and the compassion that I’d withheld from her in life. I looked at her life and used significant events in her past to shape my novel. And although she never became a prostitute or madam, and never even visited much less settled in New Orleans, it is her spirit that animates the character of Beatrice Carr and I can only hope I have done her justice.
About the Author
Kitty Zeldis is the pseudonym for a novelist and non-fiction writer of books for adults and children. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, NY