Rachel’s Promise (The Rachel Trilogy)
Shelly Sanders, Author
Second Story Press, Historical Fiction, Sept. 23, 2013
Suitable for Ages: 12 and up
Themes: Persecution, Russian Jews, Family, Love, Loss, Separation
Synopsis: Rachel’s Promise is set in pre-revolutionary Russia, where tensions run high between the Jewish and Christian populations. Vicious riots break out in Kishinev in 1903. Rachel’s father is killed and her home and Jewish community destroyed. Her Christian friend Sergei turns against his police chief father, to help 15-year-old Rachel. (Read my review of Rachel’s Secret here.) Rachel, her mother, sister Nucia, and an adopted brother, Menahem, flee Russia and the brutal riots. They travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway to the coast where they board a ship to Shanghai, China. The journey is hard on her mother and she dies in a Shanghai medical facility. Now it is up to Rachel and her siblings to earn enough money to travel to America. Although her life becomes one of daily survival, she never gives up her dream of going to school and becoming a journalist. She discovers a Jewish newspaper in Shanghai and submits articles, earning extra money for the voyage.
Meanwhile, as Rachel flees Russia, Sergei leaves home for a factory job in St. Petersburg to help support his family and earn money to attend the university. Work in the Russian factories is deplorable and dangerous. Sergei is injured. His dream of becoming an architect fades as he realizes the harsh reality of his life. He joins the growing number of factory workers who are rebelling against the government. Although separated, Sergei and Rachael continue to communicate through letters and hang on to hope they will be together again.
Why I like this book: This is the second book in the Rachel Trilogy written by Shelly Sanders. The trilogy is inspired by the lives of her maternal grandmother, Rachel Talan Geary, and her sister Anna “Nucia” Rodkin, who lived in Kishinev and survived the massacres in 1903. Sanders has once again written a gripping story set against real historical events. She tells the story of the Russian Jews who managed to escape Russia under incredible odds to new lives filled with hardship in Shanghai. Many of the characters in this story did exist. I learned so much about a period of Russian history I knew little about. Sanders beautifully balances the alternating stories of Sergei and Rachel, who are mere teenagers caught in the cross-fire of persecution during extreme political upheaval. Her main characters are authentic, with each having a very distinct voice. The book is a page-turner.
Visit Shelly Sander’s at her website. I look forward to her third upcoming novel in the trilogy, Rachel’s Hope. After two years in Shanghai, Rachael and her family save enough money to pay for passage on a ship sailing to San Francisco. Follow her journey and new life in America.