Laili quickly becomes Lily when she is allowed to enter the United States at Ellis Island. Escaping the Cossacks and their pogroms, she is determined to live life as a Jew where you are not “burnt out like rats and ants.” However, the Goldene Medina is not all that she hoped for. In order to survive she and her sister work in a sweatshop sewing women’s clothes. Life goes on and Lily marries and has three children. After her husband suddenly dies, she and her teenage daughters return to the factory to work, where Lily dies in a huge fire. Their aunt tells the surviving girls they must return to Europe. One of the girls, Molly, remains, remembering her grandparents’ prayers that their children’s lives will be better than theirs.
The reader watches families acclimate to America and improve their quality of life, although as they become more successful, they become less observant. They rationalize this by recognizing the need to work on Shabbos in order to survive economically and fit into the American way of life. In a later chapter, one descendent, Maxine, searches for more spirituality and becomes Orthodox. It is her daughter, the final Lily of the book, who fulfills the original dream.
This novella, presented in poetry, gives the reader a short history of Jewish immigration in the late 19th and 20th centuries from a woman’s point of view. Some previous Judaic knowledge may be necessary to fully understand the story. There is an author’s note at the end of the book which defines several terms, but additional information would be helpful to make the events of the story come alive. The fact that it is written in poetry may not be an enticement for some readers.
Recommended for ages 10 – 13.