In Friedman’s debut work of historical fiction, a Jewish family flees persecution in Russia and makes a new life in New York City in the early 1900s.
The Raisky family—father Meyer, mother Sadie, and daughter Miriam—goes on the run after a pogrom targets the Jewish community in Kishinev, Russia. They pay a smuggler to help them escape the country and secure passage across the Atlantic to the United States, where Sadie’s sister had previously settled. In New York City’s Lower East Side, they discover that life as an immigrant in America is much harder than they had imagined. Teenage daughter Miriam drops out of school to get a job at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory to help make ends meet. Long hours, low pay, and dangerous work conditions motivate her to join an effort to unionize the city’s shirtwaist companies, and she meets a handsome young labor organizer named Jacob. She also makes friends with girls from the factory, who join the union effort. The author effectively harks back to the government inaction during the Russian pogroms as the New York police and local politicians stand by as hired thugs beat up the union organizers. However, the union members’ worst fears about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory are realized in a horrifying tragedy. Overall, this work of historical fiction is impeccably researched and told with great heart, and as a result, it manages to bring an important era in history to life. Friedman describes New York during this time in great detail, describing bustling streetscapes and providing readers with a compelling sense of what living in cramped, squalid tenement apartments was really like—freezing in winter, scorching in summer, with paper-thin walls and little privacy.
Heartbreak, history and hope combine in this atmospheric novel.