“A sure book club pick and a strong debut, this title functions well on multiple levels and will appeal to a broad readership.”

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

This is undoubtedly one of the best books I have read and an exceptional debut novel.  I thought it would be another story of Jewish immigrants to the USA but it is about an aspect that I knew nothing about: the Jewish orphanage in New York City.  The story begins in 1919 and ends shortly after the end of World War 2.

A little girl breaks her mother’s teapot and this sets off a train of events that leads to her living in the orphanage with her older brother. What W S Gilbert might call a set of curious chances leads to her being selected by an ambitious young woman doctor for medical experiments with X-rays. By the time she moves into the main orphanage she is damaged and only protected by her older brother, who asks another girl to watch out for her.

Rachel is an intelligent, industrious girl and survives, despite being abandoned by her brother who leaves the orphan asylum in a hurry.

Rachel discovers where her brother Samuel has gone and follows him to Colorado, her flight financed with money she has stolen from her best friend and protector. The haven she thought awaited turns out to be another dead end and she turns to a family who befriended her on her journey from New York. She continues to work towards her original goal, that of becoming a nurse.

Years later, working in another Hebrew institution, this time for the old and ill, she meets the doctor who performed the experiments.  Dr Solomon is terminally ill and in great pain. Rachel makes herself known and sets off on a course of revenge.

The relationship between Rachel and her erstwhile torturer is the most thought-provoking part of the book.  Is this about revenge or forgiveness? Cruelty or mercy?

I would love to know what happens to Rachel and her life partner. She is such an engaging person, taking something she greatly envies from one of her tormentors  and later using it to remedy her disfigurement. Her basic honesty always wins through, although one has to admire her gift for subterfuge.

 

 

Reviewed by:

highmyope 1955

Added 5th December 2015

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