A verse narrative follows the fortunes of a Jewish family through five generations after it immigrates to the United States.
In 1892, a Russian Jewish couple suffer a horrifying loss when their baby is murdered by Cossacks in a pogrom. They send their two remaining children, Basya and Laili, to the United States, because “in America everyone has a chance.” With their names changed to Bess and Lily at Ellis Island, the girls toil in a Lower East Side sweatshop. Lily dreams of making beautiful clothes for rich women and moving to warm, sunny Southern California but realizes “Not for Lily’s family, no. / But a grandchild, maybe, one day would go.” Her daughters, Molly and Anna, join her at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, where the girls survive the factory’s notorious fire, but their mother dies. Through two world wars and the Great Depression, Molly and her husband, Max, work hard and better their circumstances. Their daughter Lily and her husband prosper, sending their daughter Maxine to college. Not very religiously observant up till then, Maxine is drawn to the Chabad movement and Orthodox Judaism. She marries young and has five children while getting her Ph.D. in costume history, and she fulfills her grandmother’s dream by moving to Los Angeles County’s San Fernando Valley. Maxine’s daughter Lily continues the family interest in fashion and style by starting her own clothing line (“Lily of the Valley”) after marrying and having children. Michaels (Mindel and the Misfit Dragons, 2014) offers a gorgeously designed and illustrated book, though its appearance may outweigh its entirely familiar story (Ellis Island, sweatshops, world wars, reclamation of one’s heritage). Still, it’s told with verve and a pleasing sense of things coming out right. Michaels employs an English sestet form that works well; it’s short enough to keep things moving, while the ABABCC structure lends an air of finality to each stanza. The rhyme and the sometimes-singsong rhythm might make this seem a children’s book, but the content isn’t always kid-friendly: “[The Cossacks] stomped on the baby and slashed Mama’s side.”
A beautiful volume that tells a classic American