Thriller Writer Janice Steinberg Preaches Gospel of Second Chances

'Tin Horse' Tells a Tale of Mistaken Identity

The Mysteries of Steinberg: In “The Tin Horse,” Jewish identity is something that one can never truly escape.
Gaia Steinberg
The Mysteries of Steinberg: In “The Tin Horse,” Jewish identity is something that one can never truly escape.

By Julia M. Klein

Published April 17, 2013, issue of April 19, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Along with her success, Steinberg’s protagonist has had her troubles. She never had a smooth, or particularly close, relationship with her immigrant mother, a brilliant card player and frustrated actress. Her relationship with her daughter, Carol, is similarly embattled. Her steadfast husband has died, and two of her three sisters are gone: Audrey was felled by a stroke, and Barbara, Elaine’s fraternal twin, ran away from home when she was in her 20s, never resurfacing to apologize or explain.

Even six decades later, Barbara’s disappearance still gnaws at Elaine, leading her reflections back to Boyle Heights, where the twins grew up together and grew apart. Steinberg’s Boyle Heights is a tight-knit community, with its share of distinctive characters, including Danny Berlov, the immigrant boy who zealously romances both twins. Also memorable is Aunt Pearl — never married, but squired by a married Mexican man; without children of her own, but a second mother to the Greenstein children, and so successful a businesswoman that she provides work for her brother, Elaine’s father.

Boyle Heights is flexible enough to permit Pearl to flourish, and insular enough that as a girl, Elaine, despite growing up with stories of the pogroms, “never experienced scorn or hatred.”

Once she ventures beyond home, however, she sees herself, with a shock, through others’ eyes as ineradicably Jewish. Proudly, she affirms “the integrity… of being utterly myself,” compared with Barbara, whom she views as her “chameleon sister.” But could it be that her vision is blurred?

In “The Tin Horse,” identity — Jewish and otherwise — is something that can be sloughed off but never entirely escaped. It is handed down, like the eponymous tin horse, from father to son, and mother to daughter: put to varying uses, but still recognizable.

Of course, we know that Elaine will go in search of her sister Barbara. And we know that there would be no book if she did not find her. If nothing else, “The Tin Horse” preaches the gospel of second chances, suggesting that where the emotional stakes are high, it is never too late. Though its characters are Jewish, its conundrums are understandable to anyone who knows firsthand just how thoroughly families can both wound and heal.

Julia M. Klein is a cultural reporter and critic in Philadelphia and a contributing editor at Columbia Journalism Review.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.