THE MATCHMAKER’S GIFT
A heartwarming story of two extraordinary women from two different eras who defy expectations to realize their unique gift of seeing soulmates in the most unexpected places.
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,
A heartwarming story of two extraordinary women from two different eras who defy expectations to realize their unique gift of seeing soulmates in the most unexpected places.
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?
- St. Martin's Press
- September 2022
- 320 Pages
“Loigman’s thorough exploration of turn-of-the century, Jewish immigrant culture and her smooth transitions into the 1990s give the reader a full and satisfying picture of Manhattan across the twentieth century. The details are painstaking but never tedious, and the relationships are exciting, sincere, and beautiful.”–Booklist
“Charming…Loigman moves smoothly between the tales of her two spunky heroines and imparts historical details with a light touch. Readers are in for a treat.”–Publishers Weekly
“Loigman’s latest is a gem. A scrappy Jewish teenager newly arrived in 1920s New York struggles to follow her calling as a matchmaker––seventy years later, her cynical divorce-attorney granddaughter realizes she has very inconveniently inherited the family gift for matching soulmates. Both funny and moving, The Matchmaker’s Gift made me smile from start to finish.”–Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Rose Code
“In the inviting The Matchmaker’s Gift, Loigman takes the readers by the hand and leads them into the world of shadchanim, or matchmakers, of both a historic and modern variety. This charming story about a realm that is at once familiar and magical invites contemplation of the many ways in which the past reverberates into the present.”–Marie Benedict, New York Times bestselling author of The Mystery of Mrs. Christie
“Loigman brilliantly illuminates the struggle of two women, generations apart, torn between society’s traditions and expectations and their own personal fulfillment. The novel bubbles with romance and love matches, yet the joys of early infatuation are deftly layered over an exquisite exploration of grief. Glorious and powerful.”–Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue
“Combining authentic historical fiction with mystery and a touch of romance, Loigman artfully reminds us that the past is never far, the present is a gift and the future is ours for the making. The Matchmaker’s Gift is timely and timeless, and readers should make time for this original and touching story about the things that matter most.”–Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Woman With The Blue Star
1. The Matchmaker’s Gift alternates between Sara’s narrative and Abby’s narrative. Was there one perspective that you connected with more than the other?
2. Sara is a matchmaker and Abby is a divorce attorney. How does the juxtaposition of these two careers work to move both the narrative and the two character arcs forward?
3. Discuss Abby’s father. How do you think he influenced Abby’s life decisions and her opinions on love?
4. Consider the weight of the statement, “Love is not always a straight, shining line. Sometimes, love is a shady path, full of unpredictable turns,” on page 161. How does the truth of this come to light throughout the novel? In what specific instances does love feel the most complicated?
5. In The Matchmaker’s Gift there are several unique and strong female characters. Each of these women tells us something important about the two time periods explored in the novel. What qualities and strengths do these women express, and where are they illuminated in the novel? What do these women reveal about the times and places in which the novel occurs?
6. On page 246, Sara says, “If you can’t decide what you want to fight for, love is as good a cause as any.” Which character in the novel do you believe fought the most for love?
7. Consider the statement on page 231, “Tradition should never be used as an excuse to keep people from reaching their potential.” In what ways does tradition work to hold back the characters in the novel? In what ways does it work to benefit them?
8. In your opinion, what is the biggest gift / lesson that Sara leaves Abby with, both from the time she was alive and from Abby ’s reading of her journals?
9. The Matchmaker’s Gift asks the question of whether being able to find true love is a blessing or a curse. When you initially learned of Sara and Abby’s ability to sense a true match, what was your opinion on this? Did it evolve over the course of the novel? In what moments does matchmaking seem like a gift, in what moments does it seem like a curse?
10. Overall, how did the end of the novel make you feel? What do you think comes next for Abby? Do you think she will continue to make matches? Do you think she will find love for herself?
A Matchmaker for This Strange, New World
Sara was ten years old when she made her first match.
She had traveled for a week from Kalarash to Libava with her parents, her sister, Hindel, and three unruly brothers to board the giant steamship headed for New York. As the coast faded to a blurry mist, eighteen-year-old Hindel wailed like a colicky infant. She wept for the village she would never see again and for the handsome young man she had left behind. Their mother, who had no patience for tears, pointed to the water that surrounded them on all sides. “The ocean is full enough,” she said. “If you don’t stop crying, you’ll drown the fish.”
They had come up to the deck from their third-class cabin—a cramped cell reeking of vomit and salt. Sara thought the sea air might raise Hindel’s spirits, but the cyan sky offered no reprieve. After soaking through their mother’s handkerchiefs, Hindel began using the folds of her skirt. Her eyelids were pink, swollen, and raw, but even in grief, her beauty was apparent. Hindel’s skin was as soft as the foam on the waves. The braids down her back were like honeyed silk.
Their mother whispered in Sara’s ear. “Find your father and bring me his handkerchief. Quickly, before your sister ruins her clothes.”
Sara was more than happy to oblige, to be free, for a moment, from the wailing. Her father’s face was nowhere to be seen, but she did not shrink from the crowd. She pushed her way past a group of young men—at least half a dozen bent over a wooden crate, throwing down cards, tossing coins, and laughing. The tallest one winked as Sara went by, but it was the shorter man behind him who caught her attention.
The man stood apart from the rest of the group, staring in silence at the motion of the sea. His reddish beard was neatly trimmed; his woolen suit was worn but clean. Sara watched as he plucked a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles from his face, pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, and set to work polishing the round lenses.
He was gentle with his task, careful and slow, holding the spectacles as if he thought he might hurt them, as if they were the wings of an injured bird instead of two discs made of clear, hard glass.
In an instant, Sara was beside him, pointing to the handkerchief, asking for help. “Please,” she said sweetly, “may I borrow it for my sister? She is there, by the railing—the girl with the braids.”
The man placed the spectacles back on his nose and squinted. “By the railing, you say? I can’t see that far. My eyes are not as sharp as they should be. Still, I’m more than happy to help.” Something inside Sara’s chest stirred. She knew that when most men saw her sister, they noticed only her flawless skin and the curves beneath her dress. Back in their tiny village, every man over the age of fifteen had leapt to Hindel’s aid at every opportunity. They carried her water buckets from the river; they picked up the stray apples that fell from her cart. Sara had seen their wolfish smiles, their hungry stares, their too-close hands. But this short and weak-eyed stranger acted out of courtesy alone.
As she led the man toward the railing, the sun emerged from a passing cloud overhead. Sara blinked once and then again. Was it her imagination, or had a single strand of golden light formed a line from her older sister to the myopic man beside her? “My name is Aaron,” the stranger said, as he struggled to keep up.
Three months later in New York, Hindel married Aaron in a one-room synagogue on Rivington Street. At the small reception, held on the roof of the building, electric lights were strung on tall wooden poles, and platters of cake were set out for the guests. Sara’s mother told anyone who would listen that her youngest daughter had been the one to introduce the young lovers. “Can you believe it?” she said to the guests. “I sent her for a handkerchief, and she came back with a groom.” A few of the guests shook their heads in disbelief, but most of them smiled or offered their congratulations. Such a good girl you have, they said. Such a blessing to her family.
When all the cake had been eaten and all the schnapps had been drunk, the rabbi—a stout man in a wide fur hat—took Sara’s hand gently and murmured a blessing. “Tell me,” Rabbi Sheinkopf said, “about the ship. Dozens of men carry handkerchiefs. Why pick Aaron? Why ask him to help you?”
A long moment passed before Sara answered. She chose her words like fruits at the market, weighing each one before she spoke. “He was different from the other men. The others gambled on games of cards, but he stood apart. He was polishing his spectacles.”
“Ah,” the rabbi said. “So, he was the most prudent and scholarly of the men?”
Sara shook her head. “Not really. He wasn’t prudent, only poor. And the spectacles didn’t make him look scholarly. He was cleaning the dust off of them and squinting. When I first pointed Hindel out to him, his eyes were so bad that he couldn’t even see her.…”
“So, you chose someone who could see beyond your sister’s physical appearance?”
Sara hesitated. “Partly,” she admitted. Sara understood that though the rabbi searched for answers, he did not know enough to ask the proper question. She knew that the most important part of her encounter was not what had led her to approach Aaron in the first place, but what she had seen afterward. She did not want to lie to the rabbi, but she was not sure how to explain the phenomenon to him. Eventually, she raised herself onto her toes and whispered the story into his ear.
When she described the filament of light she had seen, the rabbi did not seem surprised. Instead, his eyes sparkled with possibility. “You have a calling,” he said to Sara. “You are young yet, but it will wait.”
“I don’t understand,” she said. “What do you mean?”
“The light you saw between your sister and her husband was not a trick of the sun. You have been blessed with eyes that can see the light of soulmates reaching for each other.”
Whether it was the rabbi’s words, the sip of brandy her father had given her, or the flicker of the strange electric bulbs, Sara’s head began to throb. The rabbi’s voice was like late spring rain—soft, but steady and persistent. The words he spoke next fixed themselves in her mind and clung to her for the rest of her life.
“You are a matchmaker, Sara Glikman. A shadchanteh for this strange, new world.”
The night that her grandmother Sara died, Abby dreamed of her in sharp and glowing detail. In Abby’s dream, Sara was the same as in real life—a five-foot-tall, plumpish woman wearing comfortable shoes, black slacks, and a cardigan sweater. The skin on her face was wrinkled but soft, her curls freshly dyed Nice’n Easy “Champagne Blonde.” When Abby woke in the morning, her grandmother’s voice was in her head. Would it kill you to dream of me in better clothes? Maybe make me taller or a little thinner, at least?
Grandma Sara had passed peacefully in her sleep, with a smile on her face, a stack of newspapers on her nightstand, and an empty cake plate on the floor by her bed. On the last day of her life, she had walked for three miles around her Upper West Side neighborhood. When she spoke to Abby on the phone that evening, she mentioned an upcoming coffee date with her neighbor. “Mrs. Levitz is coming tomorrow at ten. I promised her I’d make the cinnamon babka, but I don’t like to rush around in the morning, so I made two of them this afternoon. I put one in the freezer for you. I’ll give it to you when you come on Sunday.”
Abby forgot about the babka until the next morning, when her mother called her at work with the news. Sara hadn’t answered Mrs. Levitz’s knocks, so the neighbor asked the building’s doorman for the key. Sara’s entryway had been dark and still. There was no coffee brewing, no activity, no noise. An ambulance was summoned, but it was already too late.
Abby shut her office door and let the tears run down her cheeks. It was impossible to believe that her grandmother was gone. Fourteen years ago, Grandma Sara abandoned her retirement in Florida to help Abby’s mother raise her two daughters. In the winters, when New York turned snowy and gray, Abby would ask her grandmother if she ever missed the beach. But even on the coldest, most bitter days, Grandma Sara would smile and shake her head. “You and your sister are my sunshine,” she would say. “At my age, who wants to bother squeezing into a swimsuit?”
Abby stared at the lone photograph on her desk—a portrait with her sister and her grandmother, taken at Sara’s ninetieth birthday celebration. In the photo, all three women held up glasses of champagne. Abby wore her dark curls long and loose, while Hannah’s lighter waves were pinned up with flowers. Grandma Sara was in the middle, flanked by her two granddaughters, beaming at the camera.
Pressing the frame to her heart, Abby tried to conjure her grandmother’s voice—the vaguely old-world accent that clung to her vowels, the long-forgotten tunes she used to hum under her breath. Abby let her mind drift to the last time they were together, two days ago for their weekly Sunday lunch. The Nichols divorce had been all over the news, and, of course, her grandmother had brought it up. Sara was fascinated by her granddaughter’s legal career, interrogating her regularly about the details of her work.
“I read an article today, about the actress and the millionaire. Your firm represents the actress, yes?” Grandma Sara’s eyes had sparkled like a mischievous child’s.
“Grandma, you know I can’t talk about my cases. They’re confidential, remember?”
Sara held up her hand. “You don’t have to say a word. I have two good eyes and two good ears. I watch the news. I read the papers. I already know everything I need to know. It’s not over for those two, not by a long shot.”
Abby groaned and covered her face with her hands. “You just said you’ve read the articles! How can you possibly think it isn’t over?”
“I don’t believe everything I read. You assume everything they print is true?”
“Grandma, I told you. I can’t discuss it. All I know is that I’m working twelve-hour days for people who don’t want to be in the same room with each other.”
Sara stood from the sofa and refilled Abby’s coffee cup before settling back against the chenille cushions. “Sweetheart, you have to stop working so hard. All this tumult will come to nothing. Those two are staying together. End of story.”
“Michelle Nichols was in our office three times last week!”
Sara shrugged and sipped her coffee. “I see what I see, and I know what I know. There won’t be any divorce. Go ahead, tell your boss.”
“Should I tell her that’s my grandmother’s professional opinion?” Abby had heard a few stories of her grandmother’s matchmaking days, back when she was a young woman on the Lower East Side and later, as a young mother after the war. Sara had been out of the business for over forty years, but she still liked to lecture on matters of the heart. It could be a sore point between the two of them, especially when Sara tried to give her single granddaughter advice. In fact, it was the only thing they ever argued about.
“Joke if you want, but yes, that’s my opinion. I’m old, but my instincts are still good.”
When Abby didn’t answer, her grandmother continued. “For instance, I know when my granddaughter isn’t happy.”
“Grandma, stop. I’m perfectly happy. I already told you, everything is fine. I like my apartment, I have nice friends, and I’m really lucky to have such a good job.”
“Lucky is when you win the lottery. Not when you work eighty hours a week.”
Abby sighed. “Not my hours again, please—”
“You can’t do a job like that forever. Every day, another kick in the kishkes…”
“No one is kicking my kishkes, Grandma. Yes, I work very hard. Yes, it’s not always the most … uplifting work. But it’s important to me.”
“Who’s saying your work isn’t important? I’m all for divorce—it’s a necessary thing. Not just for people like your parents—for other people, too. People even less lucky…” She paused for a moment. “Of course, none of my matches ever needed a divorce.”
“That doesn’t mean all of them were happy. Times have changed.”
Her grandmother took Abby’s hand in her own, squeezed it gently, and pressed it to her cheek. “Listen to me, sweetheart. Some things never change. Don’t you remember the stories I used to tell you? I should have made you listen better.” Sara leaned closer to Abby and sighed. “One day, my brilliant skeptic, I’ll be gone, and all of my stories will belong to you. When the time comes, try to remember what I taught you. Who knows? Maybe you’ll make a few love matches of your own.”
Love. “Grandma, you know how I feel about this. After everything my mom went through, I just don’t believe in marriage.”
“I know, I know. But listen to me, sweetheart. What happened between your parents wasn’t love. That was a match that never should have been made.”
* * *
Abby’s mother and father broke the news of their divorce to their daughters over hot fudge sundaes on Central Park South. Tucked inside a corner of the Hotel St. Moritz, Rumpelmayer’s was well-known for its ice-cream confections, elaborate pastries, and fanciful décor. Abby’s little sister was delighted with all of it—the teddy bears on the tables, the pale pink walls. The visit to the restaurant was their father’s idea, but Abby was not fooled by his subterfuge. She was twelve years old, and she paid attention. She had seen her mother’s tear-streaked cheeks. She had heard the late-night arguments coming from her parents’ bedroom. Worst of all, she had smelled the unfamiliar perfume—a dense combination of musk and burnt rose petals—that clung to the lapels of her father’s trench coat. None of the scents that swirled around the café—cocoa and butter, vanilla and cinnamon—could erase the one that lingered in Abby’s mind.
Abby had no power to refuse the family outing, but her father could not force her to enjoy herself. She watched, unsmiling, as the sundae he ordered for her softened and melted to soup in its dish. The unyielding leather of her shoes pinched at her toes and the backs of her heels. The barrettes holding back her dark, rowdy curls bit into her scalp like miniature teeth. Why had they gotten dressed up for this? Why were they pretending that they had something to celebrate? Everything about the day was wrong.
Abby was certain her mother felt the same way. Petite and pale, Beverly was nursing a cup of black coffee—a suitable drink for a somber occasion. Abby’s father had ordered an oversized ice-cream soda, slathered with whipped cream and topped with a cherry. There was something obscene about the way he devoured it. Normally, her father skipped dessert, but today, he insisted, was a “special occasion.”
“Girls,” their mother began, ignoring his slurping. “Your father and I have something we want to talk to you about.”
“Hold on, Bev.” He sucked the last of the soda through the pink-and-white-striped straw and pulled two velvet boxes from the pocket of his jacket. “I have a few presents for them first.” Hannah squealed when she saw the silver heart-shaped locket, but Abby frowned and left her box on the table.
“Phil,” their mother said through gritted teeth. “We talked about this. We agreed that gifts were not appropriate today.”
He smirked and lifted his hands to his shoulders, palms facing outward, as if he were being arrested. “You caught me,” he said. “Guess I broke the rules.”
“Don’t make me the bad guy,” Abby’s mother whispered. “You’re the one who wanted this.”
Abby searched her father’s face for answers. She knew many people considered him to be handsome—that all the pieces (his height, his chiseled jaw, his dark hair) added up to an attractive forty-two-year-old man. But lately, she’d noticed the hidden, ugly parts: the eyebrows raised in mockery, the sneering lips. He had begun to look like a different sort of person.
Hannah was still too young to notice, but Abby had been paying enough attention for both of them. She had seen the recent changes in her father’s behavior, the sudden way his moods shifted, like a boat thrown off course. She had kept track of the nights he’d come home late from work, until there’d been so many that the counting turned pointless.
“You want a divorce, don’t you?” Abby asked. When her father didn’t answer, she repeated the question.