Originally posted on Leah’s Books.
The Matchmaker’s Gift
- Author: Lynda Cohen Loigman
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Publication Date: September 20, 2022
- Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
CONTENT WARNING: death, grief, death of a parent
From Lynda Cohen Loigman, the bestselling author of The Two-Family House and The Wartime Sisters, comes a heartwarming story of two extraordinary women from two different eras who defy expectations to utilize their unique gift of seeing soulmates in the most unexpected places in The Matchmaker’s Gift.
Is finding true love a calling or a curse?
Even as a child in 1910, Sara Glikman knows her gift: she is a maker of matches and a seeker of soulmates. But among the pushcart-crowded streets of New York’s Lower East Side, Sara’s vocation is dominated by devout older men—men who see a talented female matchmaker as a dangerous threat to their traditions and livelihood. After making matches in secret for more than a decade, Sara must fight to take her rightful place among her peers, and to demand the recognition she deserves.
Two generations later, Sara’s granddaughter, Abby, is a successful Manhattan divorce attorney, representing the city’s wealthiest clients. When her beloved Grandma Sara dies, Abby inherits her collection of handwritten journals recording the details of Sara’s matches. But among the faded volumes, Abby finds more questions than answers. Why did Abby’s grandmother leave this library to her and what did she hope Abby would discover within its pages? Why does the work Abby once found so compelling suddenly feel inconsequential and flawed? Is Abby willing to sacrifice the career she’s worked so hard for in order to keep her grandmother’s mysterious promise to a stranger? And is there really such a thing as love at first sight?
Even in more recent history, matchmakers played a vital role in Jewish society. And while I’ve heard about this, I didn’t know a whole lot about it. But I was still drawn to this book thanks to some of the amazing Jewish instagram accounts that I follow. And I was absolutely not let down by this story.
It can be really hard to hold my attention when I read a book in dual timelines. What I tend to find is that one timeline is much more interesting than the other, and I rush through one POV trying to get back to the other. But this book completely bypasses that trap, creating two timelines that are equally enchanting—both Sara as a young woman in the early part of the 20th century and her granddaughter Abby in the later part of the century are both POVs that caught my attention and had me reading avidly to find out what happens to both of them. I was fully invested in both stories, despite how different they were initially.
Sara is an immigrant to NYC, but she is drawn to matchmaking by a natural gift for it. However, she faces some challenges—matchmaking was generally a field limited to older, married, devout men, so there is a lot of pushback from the older matchmakers in the neighborhood who see her as stealing her business. She makes her first match at age 10, and while that can be viewed as a sign of her destiny, it can also be a strike against her, since who would want to take matchmaking advice from a kid? And in making matches, she also goes up against the rabbinical court. She’s also facing poverty, which makes basically everything else in life hard, especially since the pressure from the other matchmakers makes it hard for Sara to accept any money for doing what her heart is telling her to do. Finally, she can’t exactly explain how she makes her matches, which aren’t advantageous matches, but love matches, and this is where elements of magical realism come into play in the story.
Abby, Sara’s granddaughter, is a divorce attorney. She’s ambitious, driven, and successful, but some recent cases force her to question her motivations to do her job the way she is supposed to. And after the passing of her grandmother, she discovers that she was left all of the matchmaking journals that her grandmother had kept over the course of her life. I loved seeing Abby’s growth over the course of the story as she starts to see a different path open to her, just as she starts feeling trapped in her life. Her journey also corresponds to her grief, and as she works through it, she is guided by her memories of her grandmother as well, and her beliefs in what her grandmother would have wanted her to do.
While the stories seemed very different at first, I enjoyed seeing how they dovetailed with each other. Both of the women have character traits in common, and they are guided by their moral compasses, even when they’re told to do something different by the people around them and society at large. I loved watching them do what they felt was right, and see how their lives changed as a result.
The story is full of strong-willed women, who are full of heart. I loved reading about the Jewishness of the early 20th century, and how certain customs were practiced. The part about how tashlich was celebrated was so beautiful to me, since it’s a ritual that has always held so much meaning and it’s one of the memories that stands out to me from celebrating the High Holy Days as a child. It’s a really fast read, and it’s beautifully written. I especially loved how it incorporated more diversity into Sara’s later matchmaking efforts as she assimilated into a more diverse world, and it made me so happy to see her expanding her efforts to non-Jewish people, other races and ethnicities, and the queer community, because she was able to see that love is love, no matter who it is. This is the sweetest, most heartwarming story, and it reaffirmed my belief in love. As my father used to say, there’s a lid for every pot.