Author: Jan Cherubin Category:

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Named to Kirkus Reviews’ List of the 100 Best Indie Books of 2020

 ”Cherubin’s bittersweet tale is an epic and indelible character study with overtones of King Lear and an occasional queasily incestuous vibe. She writes in evocative prose that mixes astringent reality with glowing reverie. An alternately dark and luminous, wounded and affectionate portrait of a family in crisis.” —Kirkus Reviews (*Starred Review)

The Orphan’s Daughter is a novel about a woman who grows up in the shadow of her charismatic but troubled father, a man shaped by his boyhood in a Depression-era Jewish orphanage. The two life stories are woven together to form the fabric of this funny and suspenseful work of literary fiction. 

Clyde Aronson survives the cruelties of the seemingly bucolic orphanage but is left scarred. Brilliant and self-destructive, a popular high-school teacher and a callous womanizer, he yearns for a son to replace the relationship lost when his father abandoned him. Instead, he fathers two daughters. He resents most the one who most resembles him: the younger, Joanna.

Joanna Aronson is thirty, alienated, and living in Southern California when she learns of her father’s puzzling illness. She returns home to Baltimore to help care for him. In the process, the two reconcile; Joanna struggles to come to terms with her own difficult history. Clyde promises to leave Joanna his collected papers, including a secret manuscript written long ago about life in the orphanage.

After Clyde’s death, Joanna’s stepmother inherits the house and all of his possessions. She refuses Joanna any access. Determined, Joanna breaks into the house and steals the manuscript. The stepmother presses charges. 

Though fictional, The Orphan’s Daughter is based upon the time, from 1924 to 1934,  the author’s father spent in the Hebrew National Orphan Home in Yonkers, New York.  

This evocative novel incorporates a strong female voice, contemporary feminist themes, Jewish cultural history, and a nostalgic sense of place. By turns wrenching and delightfully humorous, The Orphan’s Daughter is a deft melding of history and psychological drama, a literary page-turner you won’t want to put down. 

“The Orphan’s Daugh­ter is a poet­ic and engag­ing nov­el. Cheru­bin adept­ly cap­tures her many flawed char­ac­ters with nuance, human­i­ty, and insight, as well as col­or­ful­ly encap­su­lat­ing each decade with exten­sive details. The author’s father actu­al­ly spent his child­hood in an orphan­age and pos­sessed many of the same qual­i­ties as his fic­tion­al coun­ter­part. Cheru­bin also deals with many oth­er themes, includ­ing fem­i­nist issues, sib­ling love and rival­ry, divorce, polit­i­cal caus­es, and Jew­ish cul­ture in this reflec­tive, engross­ing, and heart­felt book.” —The Jewish Book Council

“Jan Cherubin’s touch is both assured and nuanced; her story is full of vivid details and wry observations. The Orphan’s Daughter is a novel that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it.” —Daphne Merkin, author of 22 Minutes of Unconditional Love

“The Orphan’s Daughter is both sharp and moving, which isn’t easy to pull off. The narrator, Joanna Aronson, is convincingly troubled and likable. And her father is a flat-out great character, not like anyone I’ve read about before but immediately recognizable and plausibly individual.” —David Gates, author of  A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me and Jernigan

“Jan Cherubin writes with tenderness and force and humor. Her spellbinding debut novel, The Orphan’s Daughter, swept me away.”  –E. Jean Carroll, author of What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal

The Orphan’s Daughter is beautifully specific, evocative, and emotionally charged.”  —Lynne Sharon Schwartz, author of Disturbances in the Field and Truthtelling


JAN CHERUBIN is the recipient of fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Vermont Studio Center. She received an MFA in fiction from Bennington, returning to the college where she studied writing with Bernard Malamud. Her journalism has appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Los Angeles, New York, The Forward, and others. Cherubin also does standup comedy at clubs in Los Angeles. The Orphan’s Daughter is her first novel.


Full text of Kirkus Review:

A father’s boyhood experience of abandonment shadows his fraught relationship with his daughter in this novel.

Cherubin’s book braids together three narratives exploring the life of a Jewish family in New York and Baltimore from the 1920s to the ’80s. One follows Joanna Aronson as she cares for her father, Clyde, during his latest struggle with cancer while butting heads with her stepmother, Brenda, a cold woman whom Joanna suspects of neglecting him and even trying to kill him. Interspersed are Joanna’s memories of growing up in suburban Baltimore with her sister and parents in the ’60s, a life that seems idyllic yet seethes with subterranean discontents. Clyde, an English teacher, dominates the family with his charisma but undermines it with his affairs, including a liaison with one of Joanna’s teenage acquaintances. Joanna’s mother, Evie, feels trapped in housewifery and longs for the fulfillment she felt as a Communist Party activist. Joanna, though drawn like Clyde to the life of the mind, feels slighted because of his wish that she had been a boy. A colleague of her father’s seduces her at age 14. Threading through the story is Clyde’s memoir of growing up with his brother, Harry, in New York’s National Hebrew Orphan Home after his father abandoned the family and his mother placed the two boys there in 1924. It’s a Dickensian story of cold, hunger, loneliness, frequent beatings, and sexual abuse, but it’s lit with friendships and intellectual ambitions. Cherubin’s bittersweet tale is an epic and indelible character study of Clyde from frightened cub to kvetching lion in winter, with overtones of King Lear and an occasional queasily incestuous vibe. She writes in evocative prose that mixes astringent reality with glowing reverie. (“I sized up the three agents,” recalls Evie of a visit from the FBI during the Joseph McCarthy era. “Cold, smug, and bored. They could not begin to understand how alive I was during the war, how urgent and meaningful my life was thanks to the CP. How engaged I was with the world….I still miss those days.”) As Joanna grapples with her clan’s vexed legacy, the author shows how both betrayal and forgiveness can propagate across generations.

An alternately dark and luminous, wounded, and affectionate portrait of a family in crisis.