Why She Married Him

Publication Date: Oct 17, 2005

336 pp


List Price US $23.95
ISBN: 9781590511756

History and fiction merge in this richly embroidered tale of a young Jewish woman in early 20th-century France.

Set in Paris in the early 1900s, Why She Married Him tells the story of Nina Schavranski, a beautiful young Russian Jewish émigré at a crossroads in her life. At 22, in the immigrant community of Belle Epoque Paris, Nina’s choices are few. She works in her father’s tailor shop, attends political lectures and night school, striving to be an intellectual, “modern” woman. But Nina’s sensual nature and her longing for freedom remain unfulfilled. The answer to the question of why she marries Abraham Podselver, a struggling fashion illustrator with socialist dreams, lies in the sum of Nina’s experiences—which unwind like a bolt of silk as the novel moves backward in time. We see Nina enjoy her first real love—who abandons her for better opportunities in America. We see the Schavranskis when they first arrive in Paris, struggling to make it out of the Marais ghetto. We see the family in Yekaterinoslav in Ukraine, where they enjoyed a comfortable, cultured life until a series of bloody pogroms forced them into exile.

Capturing both the sweep of history and the private joys and turmoil of a complex young woman, Why She Married Him is rich, satisfying historical fiction. Inspired by an unpublished memoir by the author’s grandmother, found years after her death, the novel is infused with passion.

Excerpt from Why She Married Him

“Chapman does an excellent job capturing the restrictions placed on the Schavranskis by their religion and class, particularly showing how they lean to live with the disappointments life offers. She also does an excellent job portraying the city around them, showing how geographical details can help determine one’s social status.Where Why She Married Him worked was forcing me to imagine a time when the course of one’s life was far more restricted than it is today, particularly for women. Although the novel is never strident about the lack of freedom most women faced, through Nina’s story, one experiences those limitations. Why She Married Him serves as an excellent window into the past.” —The Reporter

Several years ago, Myriam Chapman found three notebooks written by her grandmother about her childhood in Russia and life as a young woman in Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century. Enthralled by what she read, but imagining the story between the lines, Chapman set out to write a novel based on her grandmother’s experience. Why She Married Him is a love story at the intersection of history and tradition, about a young Jewish woman fleeing from the bloody pogroms of the Ukraine with her family to start over in Paris, where she must decide whether she should marry the gentleman who is courting her.


1. Why She Married Him examines the life of a young woman caught between her aspirations and the constraints imposed on her by her society. Is this still a contemporary issue? How does the position of young women today differ from young women in the 1900s? What constraints, if any, operate in the life of young women today?

2. Nina marries Abraham in part to resolve the tensions in her life. What do you think of her solution?

3. Nina and her family are refugees in Paris. What is the impact, if any, of their position on Nina’s decision to marry Abraham?

4. What does Nina want most for herself? In the context of her society, can her decision to marry Abraham be considered a step toward liberation or an abdication of her dreams? Or both?

5. What advantages will marriage offer Nina? Are these advantages still applicable in 21st century society?

6. Sasha abandons Nina for America. What does this decision say about him? Would he have made a good husband for Nina?

7. Abraham takes his socialism with him everywhere. How does that affect his relationship with Nina? Should a person abandon his/her principles if they clash with a relationship?

8. Nina admires Abraham for qualities she also finds objectionable. How does she resolve her ambivalence?

9. Revolutionary ardor and pogroms figure prominently in Nina’s childhood. How did this affect Nina’s sense of herself as a Jew in Russia and in France?

10. The Jewish exodus from lands in the Pale of Settlement at the turn of the last century is well documented. Is the trajectory of Nina’s family different from or similar to your own family’s experiences or to stories you have heard?

11. Finally, given what you know of Abraham and Nina, do you expect this marriage to be successful? What factors could hold this couple together? What factors could split them apart?