The Refomer's Apprentice, The First Lady of Dos Cacahuates & On Her Way Home
This packaged set of three trade paperback novels tracks thirteen years—1875 to 1887—in the eventful life of tenacious Frieda Levie as she seeks her place in class-conscious San Francisco, then in the raw and turbulent Arizona Territory.
These three novels were born of The First Lady of Dos Cacahuates, my initial attempt at full-length fiction. I started it in 1969 in a novel-writing workshop led by Robert Kirsch, Los Angeles Times book editor, literary critic, novelist, essayist, and professor. He had one word for the first three chapters: "Magnificent." (Years later I learned he'd recently completed a book titled West of the West: Witnesses to the California Gold Rush.) In 1971 Robie Macauley, author of Technique of Fiction, then University of Iowa Creative Program instructor, read the completed novel at a Writers Conference at Santa Clara University and recommended it to New York literary agent Rosalie Jacobson. More praise ensued but no sale. In 1980, Los Angeles literary agent Richard Kahlenberg sent First Lady to Kitty Hawks, daughter of Howard Hawks, film director of classic Westerns. Then wife of then head of MCA/Universal, Ned Tanen, she was also a scout for Jove Publications, one of the company's mass market imprints. She saw First Lady as book two in a trilogy and set the terms: buy First Lady, contract a prequel, and option a third novel. (For Kitty's far-sighted judgment, her subsequent departure, and the resulting decision to abridge the two completed works to a single novel, So Far Away, praised by recognized authorities, click here.) Between 1996 and 2000, Fithian Press published, in their entirety, each of the three novels in hardcover and trade paper. Encouraged by exuberant reviews, and committed to the trilogy Hawks had envisioned and I'd executed, in 2004 I packaged the novels in trade paperback under the Roots West Press imprint as the Desert Dwellers Trilogy.
At seventeen, Frieda has two options: marry and produce grandsons for her Orthodox Jewish father, or make the world a better place for Miss O'Hara, leader of an elite philanthropic girls' group. Sudden financial reversals thrust her into an unanticipated role, as cook in her bankrupt father's kosher boardinghouse. When four hard years spent kitchen-bound and dodging unappealing suitors ends in near rape in the wine shed, Frieda opts for a long shot. Bennie Goldson, Arizona storekeeper-turned-town-builder, proffers love, prestige, and miles of serene desert. Which he delivers, along with flash floods, sandstorms, heat, bankruptcies, and three children. Reckoning occurs in the sixth year, when Frieda's visiting fourteen-year-old sister is kidnapped. Obsessed with reclaiming the girl and making amends to her grieving parents, Frieda pits herself against Arizona's crude and corrupt justice system. Battered, but unstoppable, she learns who she is, also where and with whom she belongs.
"Harriet Rochlin writes about Jewish women in the West and her trilogy is fantastic. Her books are not only terrific writing, they introduce us to a time and a people - Jewish pioneers - who are not often thought of as westerners." - Jane Kirkpatrick, Winner of the Western Wrangler Award and author of 14 bestselling novels
"Rochlin has carefully researched the stories of Southwestern Jews. She has brought together her findings in the form of an excellent fictional account of the late 19th century events. These novels combine tragedy and humor in an appealing and unbeatable combination." - Dr. Morton I. Teicher, Founding dean of the Wurzeiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University South Florida Jewish Journal
"Torn between family and freedom, tradition and individualism, Frieda Levie Goldson draws us into her tumultuous world. The lively characters that inhabit Frieda's world keep us guessing as to what trouble they will tumble into next. Painted against the backdrop of old San Francisco and sun-bleached Dos Cacahuates with such precise detail, a reader could easily feel caught up in the history that built the American West." - Debra Rodensky, The Historical Novels Review
The wrap features an Arizona desertscape, its natural beauty deepened by the reflections of David Lubin, a Jewish pioneer, who in the 1860s prospected in the Arizona Territory:
Dear, quaint, weird old Arizona is a piece of poetic inspiration! With rarefied atmosphere, its bunch grass, its uncanny-looking cactus, its natural parks with miles of flowers, its seas of sand, and its endless mesas! It is perhaps not without reason that the great religious prophets, the Moseses, the Elijahs, the Johns and the Mohammeds, obtained their inspiration from the desert.