Historical novelist Ruth Freeman Solomon dies at 88

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Ruth Freeman Solomon didn't just write books. She wrote her life.

She was writing until her death Aug. 12. She was 88.

The Russian-born San Francisco author is best known for four novels she wrote between 1967 and 1974 — the trilogy "The Candlesticks and The Cross," "The Eagle and the Dove" and "Two Lives, Two Lands," and the semi-autobiographical "The Ultimate Triumph."

But in her family, Solomon is remembered as "bigger than life," a woman for whom "anything was a story," said her grandson Joshua Solomon.

"If you were wondering about a set of glasses she bought at Macy's, it became a 20-minute history. But she never failed to entertain."

In fact, it was that natural gift for telling tales that propelled Solomon into writing.

Already in her late 50s, Solomon was vacationing with friends in Big Sur when, "as always, she began telling one thing and then another and tying all these seemingly unrelated anecdotes into a big knot at the end," Joshua Solomon said.

The man listening to Solomon was a publisher. He asked if she could write as well as she spoke, and asked her to drop off a sample. The result was "The Candlesticks and The Cross," published when she was 59.

"Before that she was raising a family," Joshua Solomon said. "I wouldn't say she dreamed of being a writer. But she knew she had it in her. She was terribly in awe of great writing. She just wasn't certain she could match up."

Like all of Solomon's writing, her first book combined embellished anecdotes with personal history to portray the Jewish experience in both Russia and America.

Solomon was born in Kiev in 1908. Her birthdate is unknown, but she chose April 21 — the same birthday as one of her childhood friends. She emigrated to the United States with her family when she was 3 years old.

Raised in Fall River, Mass., and Freeport, N.Y., Solomon graduated from Syracuse University in 1929 with a degree in political science. She was the first female captain of the debate team.

In 1930, she married Joseph Solomon and moved to Vienna, Austria, where she earned a graduate degree in humanities from the University of Vienna.

Nine years later, the couple moved to San Francisco, where Ruth Solomon raised two sons, Daniel and George. A member of Congregation Emanu-El, she also volunteered for a number of organizations including the Friends of Langley Porter Clinic, the Fromm Institute for Lifelong Learning and the Advisory Committee to U.C. Berkeley's School of Health.

Although Solomon published her last novel in 1974, she continued to write articles up until her death. When she wasn't writing, she filled her days with friends and acquaintances — among them Golda Meir, Robert Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt and Abba Eban.

"She had an enormous list of famous confidantes. I'm not even sure how she came to know all these important people," Solomon said. "She didn't talk about it. Perhaps that's why she received so many confidences."

But when she was diagnosed with cancer in April, she called her grandson Joshua. An attorney living in Los Angeles, he moved in with his grandmother, taking care of her until the end.

"The day I was born, we sort of hit it off. We were a team from day one," Joshua Solomon said. "She was fiercely independent. Most people drove her nuts. But she could stand me. I let her be her.

"Being a storyteller, it would seem her life grew bigger than it was, but it didn't. It's amazing what she accomplished in one short lifetime."

Solomon is survived by sons George Freeman Solomon of Los Angeles, Daniel Solomon of San Francisco and three grandchildren. Services were held at Congregation Emanu-El.

Donations may be made to the Fund for Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), P.O. Box 288875, Malibu, CA 90265; Friends of Langley Porter Clinic, 401 Parnassus Ave., S.F., CA 94142 or in memory of her mother, Jenny Freeman, to Ben-Gurion University in Beersheva, Israel.