In 1914 the teenage Chodorov sisters--serene Ruth, tomboy Kala, sensitive (crippled) Sophie, and ""cranky"" Ekaterina--find that their town of Lyesk (200 miles east of Warsaw and 500 miles west of Moscow) has ""ceased to be boring"" in the new prosperity. Also, thanks partly to their mother Malkeh and her popular bakery, Jews don't need a permit to live in Lyesk--where the different classes and faiths live together peacefully. But brother Iosif, to the grief of child-like father Naftali, leaves for Detroit, bored with run-down rural nothings. And, as the war rumbles in the distance, romance has unexpected consequences: Ruth's handsome suitor flees to the US, leaving a humble but ugly ""substitute"" (whom Ruth resignedly marries); Kala, having seen the first wretched war refugees, is drawn to the revolutionists' cure for injustice, repairing a bomb for soft-spoken, cultured Mikhail Kossoff from Vilna. Then the war comes nearer--and most of the Chodorovs prepare to welcome the Germans. But Kale, loyal to the town, insists on leaving her grieving and resentful family, to join the evacuated townspeople. (Outside the Chodorovs' burning house, someone plays Chopin on their piano.) Mikhail joins the long desperate march of camaraderie, deaths, and despair; Kala and Mikhail marry before the Lysekers, in a marshy meadow with gypsy fiddles. Three years later the pair are working for the Left Socialist Revolutionist Party in Moscow--till they need to be rescued from death by calm, dapper Naftali. And back home in Lyesk the Chodorovs suffer under German, Polish, Red Army, and Polish rule--at last emigrating to Detroit, where Iosif and his pampered family are horrified that ""these dank and smelly creatures. . . were family."" Never strident, occasionally touching: a solid portrait of a peaceful community, and good and gentle people, in terrible times.