If You Are There
(Counterpoint Press, January 2017)
The new historical novel by the author of The Little Russian follows a young Polish girl through the kitchens and séances of the City of Light.
Set in the early 1900s, the novel follows young Lucia Rutkowski who, thanks to the influence of her beloved grandmother, escapes the Warsaw ghetto and a life trapped in the textile mills to work as a kitchen maid in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the bustling city of Paris. Too talented for her lowly position, Lucia is thrown out on the street. Her only recourse is to take a job working for two disorganized, rather poor married scientists so distracted by their work that their house and young child are often neglected. Lucia soon bonds with her eccentric employers, watching as their work with radioactive materials grows increasing noticed by the world, then rising to fame as the great Marie and Pierre Curie.
Soon, all of Paris is alit with the news of an impending visit from Eusapia Palladino, the world’s most famous medium. Considered at the time to be its own science, spiritualism and the series of sittings offered by Palladino draws great interest from the Paris intelligentsia. It is through her now famous employers that Lucia attends Eusapia’s gatherings and eventually falls under the medium’s spell, leaving the Curie household to travel with her to Italy. Ultimately, Lucia is placed directly in the crosshairs of faith versus science –what is more real, the glowing substances of the Curie laboratory or the glowing visions that surround the medium during her séance? Lucia’s journey will threaten her faith, her allegiance to the Curies, and her budding love with a muckraking journalist seeking to expose them all.
If You Are There is a thrilling, page turning novel that draws upon real characters and events to detail its examination of a young woman torn between the beliefs she was born with and the scientific realities blooming all around her.
“The bold, incandescent descriptions of séances are where Sherman’s art truly shines.”
“Sherman’s tale is a feast of detail and description, from the dangerous drudgery of the Curies’ work creating radioactive matter to the trickery behind the table-turning and ectoplasmic effects at the séances.”
“Lush with the landmarks of turn of the century Paris, when the age of reason came head to head with a resurgent fascination with the occult, Susan Sherman’s beautiful novel If You Are There provides one pleasure after another, and I couldn’t put it down.”
—Elizabeth McKenzie, author of The Portable Veblen, Longlisted for the National Book Award and Finalist for the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction
“If You Are There is challenging and yet unpretentious, complex, deliberate, and wholly, completely original. With a street-wise eye for detail and an ear well-tuned to lyricism, Susan Sherman writes with a fundamental empathy for life as it is lived. Her relentless, meticulous prose is unmatched.”
—Jill Alexander Essbaum, New York Times bestselling author of Hausfrau
“Susan Sherman has created a sympathetic protagonist whose belief in cosmic signs, scientific discovery, and the interconnectedness of humankind is nothing short of magical.”
—Vanessa Diffenbaugh, New York Times bestselling author of The Language of Flowers
“The fictional and historical mingle in Sherman’s marvelous account of the lives of Marie and Pierre Curie. It is a rare book that is as scientific as it is magical and as magical as it is scientific. This is that book.”
—Karen Joy Fowler, author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award
“This splendid novel is about discovery, in its many forms: in science, in love, in ambition, in connection; it celebrates the intersection of the natural world and faith. Sherman explores all of her characters with precise, tender compassion and radiant insight; we move with them through beautifully described turn-of-the-century Europe, as they find their own understanding of love and loss and strength. You will love this unforgettable book.”
—Karen E. Bender, author of Refund, Finalist for the National Book Award
“Readers interested in the Curies, in the tense interplay of faith, showmanship, and science, and the vibrant expatriate world of 20th-century Europe will enjoy this latest offering by Susan Sherman.”
—Historical Novels Society
Praise for The Little Russian
*People Magazine’s Great New Reads in Fiction
*One of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of The Year
“If Margaret Mitchell and Isaac Bashevis Singer had a baby, it would be The Little Russian. It’s impossible not to be deeply impressed by this sweeping portrait of Russia during the pogroms, but it is even more impossible not to be moved by this fiery and deeply human love story. A moving and brilliantly researched debut, I just loved it.”
—Sheri Holman, author of The Dress Lodger
“[An] impressive debut…Sherman’s sweeping saga works on multiple levels, from its grim depictions of war’s depredations to its harsh portrayals of anti-Semitism to its fiery love story. A mesmerizing read.”
“Sherman’s extraordinary debut novel plunges her readers into the bitter cold, deprivation, and upheaval of early 20th-century wartime Russia. Berta is a fascinating mix of petty vanity, devoted parenting, and breathtaking courage, fleshed out with cinematic detail that’s both irresistible and spectacularly illuminating. All fiction readers will enjoy.”
—Library Journal (Starred)
“An impressive fiction debut with an epic tale of war’s transformative effects on one Russian woman and her family…Sherman succeeds with her epic, sweeping arc and auspicious period setting.”
“In The Little Russian, Susan Sherman offers much more than an eloquently gripping narrative set against an explosive backdrop. She is inviting us to consider the too-often unsung heroines of history, the women whose ferocious willpower and dazzling ingenuity can be more potent than gunpowder when it comes to changing the world.”
—Los Angeles Review of Books
Susan Sherman is the author of The Little Russian. She is the former Chair of the Art Department of Whittier College and the co-creator of one of the most successful television shows for children in the history of the Disney Network. Learn more at www.susanshermanauthor.com.