A historical novel follows two indentured servants in 18th-century New York.
In 1748 on a stormy night, 17-year-old Sarah Da Silva and her 19-year-old brother, Jacob, children of Jewish merchant Gabriel, are kidnapped from a pier in Bordeaux, France, and sold into indentured servitude in New York City. Because they are educated and skilled, Sarah works as a bookkeeper for Zachariah Croman, a prominent merchant, and Jacob as an apprentice to Henry Fitler, a master engraver. Although they toil only blocks apart, the siblings do not see each other again for two years. Their reunion is facilitated by Noah, a free black man who befriends Sarah one night when he finds her crying on the street. For two years, Croman has been raping Sarah, and now she swears retribution. She obtains her freedom, but revenge begets revenge in a tale of life in pre-Revolutionary New York, with its immense array of cultures and languages, from the filthy crowded streets to the Broadway mansions. The docks vibrate with commerce and opportunity, and the harbor is packed with merchant ships waiting to unload their cargos. Historical tidbits about the city (Greenwich Village served as a “country retreat” for the upper class) enhance an action-packed plot that includes forgery (responsible for prodigious contributions to the supply of paper currency), thievery, immigrant fortitude, and the unbreakable bond of friendships that evolve into “family” in this new land. Clark’s (He and She, 2014) prose is vivid. Describing a Frenchwoman who will become Sarah’s friend and business partner, he writes: “Geneviève’s story came out in pieces, as if well intentioned short phrases had come to her tongue and no further, only to be forgotten about for moments on end.” The few editorial errors come as a surprise in an otherwise meticulously crafted text (for example, the author at one point refers to “Michael” when he is speaking about Noah). But the engrossing story offers plenty of skulduggery to keep the plot moving.
Well-stocked with vibrant details about the merchant trade, this engaging Colonial tale delivers likable heroes, despicable villains, and a strong female protagonist.