August Book Club Read: ‘The Garment Maker’s Daughter’

august book club

Book club time!

Ok, as you probably know by now, here at Femestella we love introducing you to indie brands, feminist startups, and cool new female entrepreneurs. So obviously we had to make our debut book club read a selection from a first-time feminist author.

The Garment Maker’s Daughter is set in the early 1900s and follows a group of young Jewish immigrants who have to figure out their new life in America. The book centers on Lena, who comes to work in a shirtwaist factory and has to deal with love, women’s rights, and loss. And without giving away too much, there’s also a major love triangle going on.

It’s a fast-paced read that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the last page. It’s easy to find yourself rooting for the characters and yes, even yelling at the book sometimes (hey, we’re emotional readers over here! No shame in that game!)

Ok, full disclosure: I might have *a little* bias when it comes to this book. The author, Hillary Adrienne Stern, is… my mom! So if you don’t want to take my word for it, check out The Historical Novel Society’s review of her novel (it’s glowing, obviously).

We chatted with Stern to learn more about the novel and how she interweaved 20th-century feminism while still keeping it relevant to modern-day.

Femestella: The Garment Maker’s Daughter is set in the early 1900s — how did you keep it relevant to 2017?

Hillary Adrienne Stern: When I wrote TGMD, I could never have imagined how incredibly relevant it would be.  Many of the book’s themes, including women’s and workers’ rights and the role and treatment of immigrants, are very much at the forefront of today’s unsettling times. A lot of people who’ve read the book have commented that it’s good to be reminded of how far we’ve come as a result of the struggles of those who came before us and how much our immigrant forefathers contributed to this country through their determination and hard work.  

Femestella: Without giving away too much, TGMD contains a major love triangle. Did you always know who Lena would end up with?

HAS: When I first started writing, I really didn’t know who Lena would end up with. One of the most fun things for me while writing the book was wondering out it would turn out and letting the characters’ personalities and natural evolution dictate the outcome, rather than having it be something that was predetermined by me.  As a writer, it’s really a trip when your characters become so real in your mind that it feels like they’re leading you rather than the other way around.

Femestella: Lena is an extremely strong character and yet she finds herself in a rather abusive relationship at one point. Why was it important for you to tell this part of the story?

HAS: It was very important to me that my characters be multi-dimensional and that they fully inhabit their times.  Lena was a strong woman and a feminist but, like most people, she still wanted to be loved and cared for and needed. Those wants allowed her to be seduced into a relationship that started out meeting her needs but veered badly off course. Even today, smart, strong women have been known to end up in abusive relationships and they often stay in them for a variety of reasons. Telling the story of Lena’s abusive relationship also allowed me to show some of the disadvantages that women experienced during the first half of the twentieth century when dealing with the business and legal communities in general and, in particular, when trying to obtain a divorce.  

Femestella: So many parts of this story could have happened today, despite it being a historical fiction book. If Lena were actually a millennial living in 2017, what do you think she’d be up to?

HAS: If Lena were a millennial living today, I think she might be the publisher of a website that advocates for gender equality, better working conditions for all, and fair treatment of immigrants among other things. I actually see a lot of millennials working for and speaking out on behalf of these issues. I think Lena would feel right at home in 2017! 

Femestella: There have been talks of making TGMD into a movie. Is this something you would be interested in? Who would you want to play the major characters?

HAS: I would love to see TGMD made into a movie!  Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone had such terrific chemistry in La La Land and they’re both such wonderful actors. I think they could be great as Daniel and Lena.  For Jake, I think Jake Gyllenhaal would be fantastic.  

If you’re interested in learning more, check out the book on Amazon here.

Lena Finkel
Lena Finkel is the Editor and Founder of Femestella. Prior to starting Femestella, she worked at People, InStyle, Tiger Beat, and Sesame Workshop (aka Sesame Street). She loves all things Real Housewives and Vanderpump Rules. When she's not busy binge-watching TV, you can find her hanging out with her tuxedo cat Tom.