When Aleena Rieger was growing up, there were certain things she wasn’t allowed to talk about: where she was born; her family’s experiences during World War II; her mother’s illness. Against great odds, the Riegers secured a future in which they and their descendants could lead ordinary lives. But to do so they had to jettison the past — and their past selves. Years flew by. Aleena had children and then grandchildren who wanted to know about her origins. Her parents died, which meant she no longer needed to conceal what she knew to protect them. But she also couldn’t ask them to fill the gaps in her knowledge.
The book chronicles Aleena’s efforts to uncover missing pieces: her parents’ flight from Nazi-besieged Poland, forced labor in Siberia, temporary refuge in Kazakhstan, and a long journey to America made possible by their refusal to speak of the ordeals they had faced. Describing the unique circumstances of one immigrant family, the book captures universal themes of hope, survival, and the tenacity of the human spirit.