Rachel's Secret

Second Story Press  2012

When a boy is brutally murdered in Kishinev, Russia in 1903, the Jewish community is blamed and vicious anti-Jewish propaganda quickly spreads. Rachel Paskar, a Jewish girl, was the last person to see Mikhail alive but will anyone believe her if she reveals the true identity of the murderer? Will her family and her community be put in more danger if she comes forward? Will the police even do anything? The drama and suspense builds and grows with intensity until violence erupts and Rachel’s father is killed, along with fifty others, in a devastating pogrom. The novel loses some momentum after the pogrom when Rachel, her sister, and her mother stay at the Jewish hospital, along with the other homeless, displaced Jews. But readers will be touched by Rachel’s growing friendship with Sergei, one of Mikhail’s friends and the son of a police officer, and will be filled with hope as Rachel and her family embark on their journey to America. Told from Rachel’s perspective as well as that of Sergei, first time novelist Sanders seamlessly weaves historical facts and characters from the 1903 Kishinev Pogrom into this highly readable, fictionalized account, inspired by her grandmother. Rachel’s relationship with the two Christian boys and her struggle with her faith in God and religion are portrayed with warmth and sensitivity, providing an authentic, compelling portrait of what life might have been like for a young Jewish girl at that time. An excellent discussion starter for exploring the history of anti-Semitism, Rachel’s Secret is recommended for readers ages 10 and up and will appeal to fans of similar novels such as Puppet by Eva Wiseman and The Night of the Burning by Linda Press Wulf.

Discussion Questions

Courtesy of Shelly Sanders

  1. In Rachel’s Secret, readers are ushered into Imperial Russia, the time of the last Tsar. This was a chaotic time, rampant with anti-Semitism, horrible working conditions, and a brutal authoritarian regime. Does the novel’s historical fiction genre make this setting more vivid? If so, how and why? Do you like historical fiction? Why or why not?

  2. At the beginning of the novel, Rachel thinks back to her favorite book, A Double Life, by Karolina Pavlova, specifically the following passage: "Hold back your passion, stifle its sounds, Teach your tears not to flow. You are a woman! Live without defenses, Without caprice, without will, without hope."     Why does Rachel focus on these particular words? What do they say about a woman’s place in Russia at this time?

  3. Several threads of the plot resonate in today’s world—women’s rights, propaganda, intolerance, censorship. Discuss how these elements are prominent in your world.

  4. Do you like the author’s use of two distinct protagonists with their contrary points-of-view?

  5. What does the following statement mean to you within the context of the story: The Kishinev pogrom was a direct consequence of the propaganda of lies and violence that the Russian government pursues with such energy. --Leo Tolstoy, Bulletin annuel de l’AIU65, 1903

  6. Both Rachel and Sergei’s relationships with their fathers have profound influences on their decisions. Discuss. Who has influenced major decisions in your life?

  7. Who changes more as the story unfolds, Rachel or Sergei?

  8. Discuss the relationship between Rachel and Sergei. How does it change throughout the novel?

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