7,500 Miles for a Wife

sarah-weds-c-new-york-times-24-dec-1874When fact is perfect for fiction… this highly romantic episode was no more than family lore when I began writing the novel of Dr Epstein’s life. Then California cousin CB sent me wonderful evidence of truth.

‘As to the wooing there is a bit of romance. In an album at the house of some relatives in St. Petersburg, the young merchant saw a photograph of Miss Sarah. In a twinkling of an eye he fell in love, and expressed an ardent with to see the fair original. Correspondence followed… with the result above stated.’ The New York Times December 24, 1874.

In Chapter 26, Perjured, determined daughter Sadie defeats her father. Ephraim overrides his resistance to her marriage — but at what cost?

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Writing from Life

The extraordinary Ephraim Epstein is pleased, nay astonished, to have the writing of his life story discussed in Chiswick, London on Tuesday 15 March 2016, 6.30 – 8 pm. Great granddaughter-author Susan Lee Kerr joins local author Diane Chandler (The Road to Donetsk) to converse about putting fascinating ancestors and fantastic life experiences into a novel. Do come along.

12 Turnham Green Terrace, London W4 1QP

12 Turnham Green Terrace, London W4 1QP

Two hundred students filled the stands …

…looking down at the revolving wooden operating table beneath the skylight high above, the patient already lying under white sheets; Ephraim and Burns adjusted their sightlines from the sixth tier. What would the surgery be?Laennec auscultating a TB patient, Paris, after T.Chartran wellcome.ac.uk

The buzz of speculation quieted as Dr Wood entered, his black silk gown fastened tightly at neck and wrist — modestly black, as he had no need to display its evidence of previous operations, unlike boastful surgeons so proud of their blood-stiffened whites. His house surgeon followed, wearing an everyday suit, its left buttonhole dangling a dozen or so waxed ligatures ready for service.

In Chapter 13 Ephraim continues and completes his three-year medical course, with training practice at Bellevue Hospital in New York, 1858-59. The surgery demo scene (thankfully not pictured above!) is historically true, as is Dr James Rushmore Wood (1813-1882). Medicine had a long way to go and Ephraim grows with it. But for now, the 29-year-old has to wait to learn what destiny his sponsors plan for him. My thanks for medical history and the image to the Wellcome Library. In 1860, a year after Ephraim’s graduation, the college changed its name to Columbia Medical School

Once his life as a medical student…

…had settled to a routine, the course of study at New York’s College of Physicians and Surgeons was intensive. The college had two main halls — the upper, with a skylight, was for anatomy, physiology and surgery. The afternoons saw Ephraim next door in the lab building, training in dissection and sciencemuseumukchemistry. His entire being — even that part of him committed to the Lord — was engaged, stimulated and challenged by the pace and breadth of learning. He thought of his father forbidding such worldly learning. He tried not to think of Mama at all.

In Chapter 12, Bellevue, Ephraim embarks on three years of sponsored medical study and training, finding friends and a new mentor but now severed from his wife and beloved Mama. It’s 1856-7 when advanced medicine relied on ‘heroic therapy’ — drastic treatments including purging, sweating and bleeding. Photo here is from the Science Museum, London, a case and lancet for opening a vein. It is dated 1792, but bleeding was the common treatment from earliest known history up into the later days of Ephraim’s practice as a physician.

AmaReka… sounding like America,

… in Hebrew it meant hollow people — the so-called good life, all hard work and no respect for the old ways. Hollow indeed — if I get hard work I will thank the Lord, Ephraim vowed. He started a second letter to follow the one that announced his safe arrival after the nightmare voyage. They must believe! He set out telling some of the astonishment that was America. But after three lines he faltered, more depressed than ever. He tore off the strip of paper and crumpled it, carefully saving the rest of the sheet.

Times Square, NYC

AmaReka, America

It’s still New York City, 1850, in Chapter 6, Amereka, and Ephraim is down to his last few dollars as he struggles to find work. Should he give up and buy a ticket home?

How to start in this amazing,

…thriving, bustling city? With a tour by Uncle Jacob, of course… he halted at the corner of Canal and Broadway which was indeed broad — but unpaved, just like a rutted country road. DSCN2097The Yiddish, German and Russian of their neighbourhood had given way to raw Yankee English, and to horse traffic shouts and rumbles, the hawking and spitting of men, the barking of dogs. Ephraim translated the signs on the buildings: College of Health, Watches and Clocks… his spirits rose with the energy of it all: work, America, freedom!

But of course there was no Statue of Liberty to greet Ephraim when he arrived in New York New York (Chapter 5) in 1850. This was a raw, growing city, where Fifth Avenue stretched up only as far as 23rd Street. Surely he would easily find work… or would he?