Monday, June 18, 2012

City of Slaughter: A Novel

It is easy to forget, when surrounded by modern conveniences, what many of our ancestors went through in order to build a new life in North America. City of Slaughter by Cynthia Drew sheds light on the harsh realities of immigrant life in New York City in the early twentieth century. The story opens with a horrific pogrom in a Jewish village in Russia in what was known as "the Pale," the region where the Jews were compelled to live. Thirteen year old Carsie Axelrod witnesses her parents brutally murdered by Cossacks, an incident which sets her not only on the road to America but also propels her into radical politics, feminism and even emotional disorders. In case anyone ever wondered why so many Jews became involved in Communism and anarchism in the early 1900's, they have only to read a novel such as this one in order to see the injustices which persuaded people to join those movements.

Told with page-turning suspense, the book is replete with authentic descriptions as well as soul-searing drama. As Carsie and her little sister Lilia barely make it to America with their lives, they find their circumstances in New York as harrowing as anything they left behind in Russia. Miss Drew gives us balanced portrayals of the various characters; not all the immigrants are industrious  and some are drawn into crime and drug addiction. Many women are the sole support of their families as their husbands become bogged down in gangland plots and general degradation. On the other hand, there are any number of hard-working, responsible men who build businesses out of nothing, overcoming prejudice, exhaustion and illness. I enjoyed how the various characters and their stories are woven into the tale of Carsie and Lilia. It can be a challenge to go back in time and see the world through the eyes of another culture but the author has succeeded magnificently. A brilliant work of historical fiction, City of Slaughter is both heartbreaking and hopeful.

(*NOTE: This book was sent to me by the author's representative in exchange for my honest opinion.)


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