THE DESERT DWELLERS TRILOGY

Harriet Rochlin

This packaged set of three acclaimed novels, covers twelve transformative years—1875 to 1887—in the life of the series’ big-hearted protagonist. The Reformer’s Apprentice opens with Frieda juggling a double life: adoring follower of a pioneer feminist and unpaid, harassed cook at her father’s San Francisco kosher boardinghouse. At twenty-two, she flees with an Arizona pioneer, a Jew, of sorts. In the First Lady of Dos Cacahuates Frieda survives sandstorms, flashfloods, heat, infidelity (surprisingly hers), fraudulence, and poverty. But Bennie’s love for her, Dos Cacahuates, and the desert proves contagious. Reckoning occurs in On Her Way Home, when her visiting kid sister is kidnapped by a mur­derer.

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This packaged set of three acclaimed novels, covers twelve transformative years—1875 to 1887—in the life of the series’ big-hearted protagonist. The Reformer’s Apprentice opens with Frieda juggling a double life: adoring follower of a pioneer feminist and unpaid, harassed cook at her father’s San Francisco kosher boardinghouse. At twenty-two, she flees with an Arizona pioneer, a Jew, of sorts. In the First Lady of Dos Cacahuates Frieda survives sandstorms, flashfloods, heat, infidelity (surprisingly hers), fraudulence, and poverty. But Bennie’s love for her, Dos Cacahuates, and the desert proves contagious. Reckoning occurs in On Her Way Home, when her visiting kid sister is kidnapped by a mur­derer. Obsessed with reclaiming the girl, Frieda, on her own, pits herself against Arizona’s crude justice system in three jails, two boisterous court­rooms, and at a bizarre execution. She emerges mangled, but sure of where she is, and with whom she belongs.

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  • Roots West Press
  • Paperback
  • June 2004
  • 721 Pages
  • 9780974134963

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$28.00

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About Harriet Rochlin

Harriet Rochlin, a native of Los Angeles, has been researching and writ­ing on Jewish roots in the Spanish, Mexican and American West for more than three decades. Her landmark social history, Pioneer Jews: A New Life in the Far West, is now in its eleventh printing. She turned to fiction to probe the inner lives of these pioneers as they progressed from newcom­ers to westerners. A recognized authority on western Jewish history in fact and fiction, Rochlin lectures nationwide.

Praise

“The author serves up enough period charm, crackling storytelling, and priceless details to satisfy devotees of both wild west lore and Jewish history.” —Publishers Weekly

Discussion Questions

What does the author hope to convey with the title Desert Dwellers Trilogy, and by references throughout the series to the transformative powers of the wilderness?

How do the lives of Jews pioneering in increasingly urban California contrast with those of Jews in the Arizona Territory?

In what ways does the trilogy differ from a traditional Western? An American Jewish immigrant story? A female Bildungsroman?

Contrast Frieda’s behavior among the Sisters of Service, at Levie’s Kosher Boardinghouse, as Frieda Levie Goldson in Dos Cacahuates? Frieda on her own in the Arizona Territory?

Did Bennie’s harrowing frontier experiences explain his ability to accept setbacks and move on? If so, what in Frieda’s earlier years induce her to join him in pioneering?

An actual 1886 family murder and kidnapping in the Arizona Terri­tory inspired the third novel. Why did the author choose to involve her characters in a calamity of this nature?

Were the Levies thinking of their own or of Ida’s reputation when they insisted she stay in Dos Cacahuates until outward evidence of her tragic experience had vanished?

How do you interpret Frieda’s method of extracting a confession from the murderer? What did she learn interacting at close range with a man who had inflicted life-altering pain on her and her loved ones?

The characters in these tragi-comic novels are portrayed as complex human beings, alternately loving, dismissive, optimistic, dubious, elated, depressed, funny, grim, altruistic, self-centered. Is the author depicting a particular time, place, and circumstance, or human nature in general?

Frieda has gone from acquiescence to her parents’ traditions, her group leader’s feminist ideals, and her husband’s schemes, to acting on her own moral promptings. Will she continue to set her own course?