Ukraine, 1941

In Rachel Seiffert's novel, the characters' fears unite them as they watch and wait.

There are moments that de­mand a decision. Caught up in a swirl of circumstances not necessarily of our own making, we weigh our own best interest and that of those we hold dear. Relying on intellect or instinct, we choose, hang on tight, and hold our breath, waiting to see what happens. Rachel Seiffert draws us into just such moments in her slim but significant novel.

It’s November of 1941, somewhere in Ukraine. A young boy winds his way through the streets, his younger brother in tow. They are dodging the German and Soviet troops which have overwhelmed the village. Yet, as they run away, they are also reaching toward a freedom they scarcely know exists. The dangerous allure of adventure, the stuff of the stories their mother has shared about their uncle, seduces them even as it seeks to set them free.

On another street, in another part of town, the Jewish community is filed into an empty factory, a makeshift holding cell of sorts. It is hard to say how many there are. “There are a hundred in there. More. Perhaps it is nearer two or even three: it is a press of people.” Within this press of bodies, there is a sense of suffocation, each breath more labored than the last. Every exhale silently prays to find one another, families and friends torn asunder. Every inhale is a sharp stab of unanswered prayer.