Book Excerpt: How to Make a Life
How to Make a Life by Florence Reiss Kraut is a new book that is going to be released in a few days – October 13th to be exact! Today, I’m sharing a little about the book and an excerpt from the book with you!
When Ida and her daughter Bessie flee a catastrophic program in Ukraine for America in 1905, they believe their emigration will ensure that their children and grandchildren will be safe from harm. But choices and decisions made by one generation have ripple effects on those who come later—and in the decades that follow, family secrets, betrayals, and mistakes made in the name of love threaten the survival of the family.
A sweeping saga that follows three generations from the tenements of Brooklyn through WWII, from Woodstock to India, and from Spain to Israel, How to Make a Life is the story of a family who must learn to accept each other’s differences—or risk cutting ties with the very people who anchor their place in the world.
Ready for an excerpt?!
Prologue: Kotovka 1905
When the screams and crashes, the cacophony of clashing piano chords and splintering wood stopped, an eerie quiet came over the house. Chaya Amdur listened and cowered on the dirt floor of the root cellar clutching three-month-old Feige, who had nursed and fallen asleep. Ten-year-old Beilah crouched beside her and buried her face in her mother’s skirt. In her free hand, Chaya held a shovel. If they came again, she would not go quietly.
She waited, hearing only her breath, shallow, fast. Listen! No more muffled thuds, no more footsteps on crunching glass. No laughter. Nothing. Silence. Her heart ticked, a clock. She counted seconds, minutes, ten, twenty. Then, trembling, she took in one last breath and crept upstairs toward the stillness. With the top of the shovel she pushed the hatch. It wouldn’t budge. She heaved again and something moved enough so it opened a sliver. Dust motes danced in the light that filtered through. Her eyes wide open, she saw every- thing. The hatch dropped down. She gagged and cowered in the dark.
What had she seen?
Shattered blue-and-white dishes, her mother’s splintered rocking chair, the overturned bookcase with prayer books spattered with blood. Beneath the piano a glimpse of her husband, Moshe, on his back, mouth gaping mid-scream, shirt and chest split, the white linen crusted with dark red.
She could not be still. Her legs trembled, jumped. Her heart hammered. Her stomach clutched. She crawled to a corner and vomited the little she had eaten before.
She had been nursing the baby. Beilah was rolling bedding into the corner, the others outside doing morning chores. Faint hoofbeats on the dirt road. Moshe raced into the house, shoving her and Feige and Beilah down the stairs into the root cellar. “They’re coming. I’ll get the others.”
He never came back.
She took a deep breath, got up, pushed the hatch hard again. The table that had been lying on it fell over with a crash that stopped her heart. Still clutching the baby, she crawled out. Her mother, Channah, lay on her side holding a kitchen knife, benign in her hand. Her shaitel, askew on her forehead, showed short gray hair pressed in a puddle of blood. With first one step, then another, Chaya moved through the room. The feathers from her ripped comforter lifted into the air like red-and-white snow. She smelled smoke.
“Stay here, mamaleh,” she whispered to Beilah. “Hold Feige.”
“No.” Beilah clutched her skirt, closed her eyes tight, shook her head back and forth.
“All right. Shush. Come.”
Ignoring the roaring in her ears and her shallow, rapid breath, she forced herself to peek around the doorjamb into the yard and saw smoke rising in the distance. The doors to her barn were open, the horses gone. One of her black-and-white cats lay in a pool of its own blood.
In the yard was the body of twelve-year-old Rifka, her blouse ripped open, a gash down her chest. The bottom half of her body was naked, legs splayed, thighs streaked with blood. She leaned over and pulled Rifka’s skirt down over her legs. Yetta and Yosef, ages six and four, lay on their backs near the barn, their chests red, a basket of broken eggs strewn nearby. Yetta’s eyes stared sightlessly at the brilliant blue October sky. Yosef’s eyes were closed as if asleep. They held hands.
Interested in the book? It’s out this Tuesday!
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