This novelization of the 1903 Kishinev pogrom graphically describes the carnage as Christian Russians slaughter their Jewish fellow townspeople.
Three protagonists startlingly reduce to two when one, a Christian 14-year-old, is stabbed to death by his uncle, who covets the family tobacco business. Over the following months, Kishinev’s newspaper Bessarabetz whips the city into a frenzy by claiming that Jews murdered Mikhail to use his blood for baking matzah, urging, “we need to come together, fellow Christians, to purge our town of Jews.” The narrative shifts focus between Rachel and Sergei, friends of Mikhail, for the lead up to, climax and aftermath of the pogrom. Rachel is Jewish: Rioters butcher her father and neighbors in front of her, smash houses and businesses and upend her world. Sergei is Russian Orthodox. Although son of the look-the-other-way police chief, Sergei steadfastly repudiates the blood libel but, as a 14-year-old, can’t prevent the slaughter. Sanders’ debut has generic prose and occasional anachronisms, but nonetheless adeptly conveys the history, from Mikhail Rybachenko’s real name to the bitter bigotry and bloodbath. One odd misstep: The text paints Rachel’s titular “secret”—her knowledge of Mikhail’s true murderer—as crucially important, as if that information could, in the right hands, have saved lives. But Russia and Eastern Europe’s pogroms (including Kishinev’s second, in 1905) needed no trigger beyond anti-Semitism.
Critical for its underexplored subject. (historical note, glossary) (Historical fiction. 10-15)