Elizabeth L. Silver’s new powerful page turner, “The Majority,” tells the story of Sylvia, a Harvard Law student, whose cousin, Mariana, has survived Auschwitz and the experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele. When she gets pregnant, she fears she could be kicked out of school.
Mariana, whose twin sister, Aviva, died at the hands of Mengele, wants Sylvia to make sure that what happened in Germany doesn’t happen in the United States. She tells Sylvia, regarding happiness: “It’s like candy. You want it but you don’t need it.”
Sylvia’s professor, James Macklowe claims to be an advocate of women’s rights, but she is not so sure. He tells her that her boyfriend, Joseph Bernstein, will only weigh down her career prospects. Her classmate Linda, one of the few Black law students at Harvard in 1959, tells her something that seems to be inexplicable, and we only understand the mystery at the end of the novel.
Sylvia keeps a secret from her husband and her daughter, Aviva, who is furious when she finds out what her mother has hidden. Sylvia, who hasn’t had a bat mitzvah, is happy that her daughter will have one, only for Aviva to say she suddenly drop the news that she doesn’t want one.
Silver, a Jewish Los Angeles resident, had a bat mitzvah, but said one element of the story was culled from her personal life.
“My mother grew up in Brooklyn and was secular and did not have a bat mitzvah when she was young but later had one in her 50s,” Silver told the Journal. “Women didn’t have them when she was growing up, so I thought about that a lot when writing this.”
The spark for the main character is clear.
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a huge inspiration for this book in so many ways,” Silver said. “I was always interested in her and curious about her life. I wanted to know about the fights and things left on the cutting room floor that are not talked about. Of course, Sylvia is very different, and this was just a jumping off point.”
Ginsburg became the first Jewish female Supreme Court Justice in 1993. Silver explained that when she sold this book, Ginsburg was still healthy. Dubbed “The Notorious R.B.G.” she died in 2020 at the age of 87. As Sylvia is 12 at the end of World War II, her character is born the same year as Ginsburg.
“The Majority” focuses on Sylvia’s fight against pregnancy discrimination in the workplace in and briefly mentions Roe v Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion and was overturned by Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in 2022.
Silver, an attorney who was a judicial clerk for the Texas Court of Appeals, teaches creative writing at UCLA and said she was surprised that the Supreme Court overturned the landmark decision.
“It was so enmeshed in precedent, I didn’t think it would happen,” Silver said.
Sylvia becomes upset when she believes a case of a a woman who was abused by her husband is being mishandled. As she struggles with different issues with her family, she climbs the ladder and is ultimately a final candidate for the Supreme Court, where she believes a person from her past will likely get the appointment.
In a televised hearing, a senator asks her a question many would find inappropriate.
Silver skillfully writes short cinematic chapters full of tension and inertia. The author of the novel “The Execution of Noa P. Singleton,” crafts characters you will care about; you will check yourself and wonder if you’d make the same choices in their shoes.
In a gripping moment, Sylvia tells her daughter that “… no matter how much we repave the roads, they still lead to different places. And the sooner we can all accept that, the more will be seen, and the more equal we will finally be.”
It is a call to fight against current and futures wrongs, with the acknowledgment that even the best of intentions cannot erase mankind’s mistakes of the past, whether small or horrifically evil.
The novel is a healthy reminder that in the battle between what is right and what is convenient, it is not easy to predict which side will win. We may sometimes agree with a court ruling, or sometimes, we will agree with the dissenting opinion.
“The Majority” is a riveting tale of a woman fighting for justice and female empowerment as she battles personal traumas, never forgetting her cousin, who was murdered by a maniac. Put it at the top of your summer reading list.
Silver will be in conversation with author and fellow attorney Natashia Deon at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena on July 12.