City of Slaughter
Daniel & Daniel Publishers
For this book about escaping the shtetls of the Pale of Settlement to the Lower East Side of New York City around the year 1900, the title says it all. Life is a series of miserable events for two young sisters, Carsie and Lilia Axelrod, whose story begins when they witness the murder of their parents and neighbors by Cossacks. With some help they eventually make their way to France where they board a ship bound for New York. The girls end up living in a cramped tenement apartment with a good-for-nothing uncle whose wife is moved to take them in. Carsie is haunted by the deaths she cannot allow herself to mourn. She forces herself to be strong and takes responsibility for her younger sister. The two work impossible hours in the sweatshops and Carsie eventually realizes her professional dream, while Lilia finds love.
Tragedies continue to befall the girls and Carsie becomes single-minded about children’s and women’s rights. Celebrities including the Astors, Emma Goldman, Alfred Stieglitz, and Bugsy Siegel make appearances in the story. This tale has fewer ups than downs and depicts the abject poverty and hopelessness of the tenements. The reader learns about gang wars, Tammany Hall politics, opium addiction, child labor, treatment of women, and lifestyles of the uptown rich. Although there are scarcely any happy moments in this tale, Carsie exemplifies a stubborn will to survive and succeed. The author employs much colorful detail in painting her characters and the historic time and setting.
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