Rachel’s Promise

By – February 14, 2014

The tril­o­gy that began with Rachel’s Secret con­tin­ues here with part two, Rachel’s Promise, in which Rachel, her sis­ter, her broth­er and her phys­i­cal­ly frag­ile moth­er, des­per­ate­ly attempt to flee Rus­sia and hope to reach Amer­i­ca after the vio­lent pogrom in which Rachel’s father was killed and her family’s life for­ev­er changed. The jour­ney is fright­en­ing and chal­leng­ing in many ways, filled with dan­ger, hard work and the need for con­stant courage and both phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al strength. Rachel and her fam­i­ly final­ly arrive in Shang­hai as a way sta­tion, still hop­ing to make it to Amer­i­ca some day but know­ing that for the time being they must learn to nav­i­gate this strange new cul­ture and build a new life. Rachel finds back­break­ing work as a laun­dress to sup­port her fam­i­ly but her dream is to write. She con­vinces the pub­lish­er of a Jew­ish news­pa­per in Shang­hai to let her write sto­ries, at first with­out cred­it, and she begins to hone her writ­ing skill and devel­op her con­fi­dence as a writer. Rachel even­tu­al­ly reach­es Amer­i­ca and strug­gles to decide how much of her Jew­ish iden­ti­ty to bring with her into her new life.

Mean­while, her non-Jew­ish friend, Sergei, faces his own set of chal­lenges as he, too, leaves their Russ­ian vil­lage in search of work to sup­port his fam­i­ly and comes face to face with the plight of the Russ­ian work­er in the ear­ly part of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. Rebel­lion is dan­ger­ous but seems nec­es­sary and right. Rachel and Sergei stay in touch through let­ters and each hope to meet again some­day in America.

The sto­ry is well paced and the char­ac­ters are sym­pa­thet­i­cal­ly drawn, with con­flicts and dilem­mas that reflect the issues of their day. The author includes a detailed his­tor­i­cal note about the events of the time and tells the read­er that the char­ac­ter of Rachel is based on the life of her grand­moth­er who fled Rus­sia, attend­ed school in Shang­hai and immi­grat­ed to the Unit­ed States. The read­er awaits the res­o­lu­tion of the sto­ry in the third part of the tril­o­gy, yet to come. Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 10 and up.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Shelly Sanders

  • Dis­cuss the chang­ing rela­tion­ship between Rachel and Nucia. How are they dif­fer­ent? Do you pre­fer one over the oth­er? Why?

  • Mar­tin Luther King Jr. said: We are not mak­ers of his­to­ry. We are made by his­to­ry.” Explain how this state­ment applies to Rachel’s Promise.

  • Rachel’s Promise is told from both Jew­ish and Russ­ian points-of-view. Do you like the two par­al­lel plots and set­tings? Why or why not? Why do you think the author chose to write the nov­el with this structure?

  • How does the rela­tion­ship between Rachel and Menahem/​Marty evolve?

  • Dis­cuss the theme of human rights in Rachel’s Hope. Are there notice­able improve­ments as the nov­el progresses?

  • Through­out Rachel’s Hope, and the entire Rachel Tril­o­gy, char­ac­ters are search­ing for ways to hold onto their old iden­ti­ties while accept­ing new ones as their loca­tions and sta­tus change. Who strug­gles the most and why? Where do you see sim­i­lar instances of this strug­gle with­in today’s soci­ety? Discuss.

  • Dis­cuss the impor­tance of faith to Rachel and Sergei. How do their views on this sub­ject change over time?

  • Fam­i­ly tra­di­tions are almost entire­ly lost for Rachel in Shang­hai and Sergei in St. Peters­burg; things that once seemed impor­tant are not part of their new lives. How does this impact each char­ac­ter? Dis­cuss impor­tant tra­di­tions in your life and how you would adjust if they were sud­den­ly not possible.