After fleeing her small Russian town and surviving the long, difficult journey to safety in Shanghai, Rachel Paskar has finally made it to San Francisco. Now, she must learn a new language and the customs of the United States while, at the same time, trying to respect her family’s traditions. She receives disturbing news about her friend, Sergei, trapped in Russia by his involvement with the revolutionaries. Then, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake hits, leaving Rachel homeless once more. How can she begin all over again, let alone fulfill her dreams of attending university and becoming a journalist? Like the courageous women she’s met fighting for equal rights, Rachel has come too far to let anything stop her.
EXCERPT FROM RACHEL’S HOPE
Pages 161-163 (Rachel during The Great San Francisco earthquake April, 1906)
The thunderous rumbling grew louder in every direction. Down the street, the Wells Fargo Bank crumbled as easily as a biscuit, crushing people on the ground below. A big boom. A nearby dry goods store came crashing down, its falling bricks injuring some and killing others. Across the street, two men emerged from a boarding house carrying a mattress with a woman and her newborn baby on top. New life triumphed over catastrophe.
Rachel heard a loud crash and wheeled around. Their building had caved in. Their flat was now a pile of rubble. Standing beside Rachel, Nucia wept at the sight.
Rachel could not turn away from the remains of the building where they’d just begun to establish roots in this new world. She waited for tears to fall but none came. She waited for her heart to break. Instead, she felt nothing.
A deafening thud. A large cornice fell and crushed a man as if he were an insect. Her legs buckling, Rachel stumbled down the street to get away from the sight of her ruined home and the broken bodies scattered on the ground. Nucia and Jacob, still holding Marty, trailed after Rachel. The street had sunk in places to depths of three or four feet. Clumps of wreckage appeared, some as high as five feet. The streetcar tracks were bent and twisted out of shape, and electric wires were strewn in all directions like giant spools of thread, uncoiled and dropped at random.
One storefront had fallen into the street, creating a mound of bricks and mortar. The three remaining walls resembled the set of a stage play, an unrehearsed tragedy. Farther along, wagons had fallen over. The horses, still in harness, lay dead on their sides. Black smoke clouded the air like heavy fog.
Beneath fractured street pavement, gas lines had been smashed. Fires ignited, one after the other, as these gas lines exploded. Firemen watched, helpless. The water main lines had also been destroyed, leaving firefighters with no water to impede the inferno. Flames rose higher, spreading from one building to another. At the Windsor Hotel at Fifth and Market Streets, a fire had started, trapping three men on the roof.
“They’ll be burned alive!” a woman cried out.
Somebody do something!” shouted another.
A man carried a ladder to the side of the building where the fire had not yet reached. He scrambled up the rungs, but the heat and flames were too intense for him to get to the roof.
The crowd swelled, and the air was clotted with smoke and terror. A military officer came upon the scene, observed for a moment, and conferred with his soldiers. The soldiers nodded somberly, formed a line in front of the building, pointed their rifles directly at the men, and fired. The men fell and vanished through the roof, into the blaze that now raged higher than the building.
People cried out in horror as the men were shot. Feeling sick, Rachel pressed through the mass of people until she had gone past a few more burning buildings. A brown-and-white dog ran in front of her, barking hysterically.
In the next block, another man lay pinned down beneath the burning ruins, begging for a merciful end. Rachel looked away as a police officer took out his gun.
Reminded of the massacre in Kishinev, where policemen had hurt and even killed Jews, Rachel retreated, afraid to look, afraid to make a sound, afraid to be noticed.
Flames swept across Market Street, igniting building after building. The pavement cracked. A drove of longhorn steers that had escaped from slaughterhouses near the waterfront, rushed down the street toward Rachel. They vanished, one by one, before they reached her. Rachel ran to the spot where they’d disappeared. A giant fissure, created by the earthquake, had swallowed the cattle whole.
Rachel fell to her knees. All around her, people prayed and cried for help. Rachel crouched over until her hands touched the ground.
Book 2 of the Rachel Trilogy
Rachel’s Promise picks up the story where Rachel’s Secret left off. After her father is killed in anti-Jewish riots, Rachel, and what remains of her family, take the Trans-Siberian Railway across Russia to board a ship to Shanghai. After a frightening journey, she and her family reach China, one of the few countries that offered safe harbor to Jews at the time. Here, Rachel struggles to earn and save money for her journey to America.
Sergei has also left home, finding work in a St. Petersburg factory so that he can support his mother and sister. But factory life in 1904 Russia is dangerous and Sergei soon joins workers in rebelling against inhumane conditions.
Separated by thousands of miles, Rachel and Sergei cling to their friendship through letters that become the brightest part of their lives.
Their tale will come to a close in 2014 with Rachel’s Hope, book 3 of the Rachel Trilogy.
BOOK 1 IN THE RACHEL TRILOGY
Rachel, a Jew, and Sergei, a Russian, find their worlds torn apart by violence in pre-Revolutionary Russia.
Rachel is a Jew living in Kishinev, Russia. At fourteen, Rachel knows that she wants more from life than the traditional role of wife and mother. She has dreams of being a writer. But everything is put on hold when a young Russian man is murdered and Rachel is forced to keep the murderer’s identity a secret. Tensions mount as the Russians’ distrust of the Jews is fueled by prejudice and rumor.
While Rachel keeps the truth to herself, she watches as lies and anti-Jewish propaganda leap off the pages of the local newspaper, inciting Russians to riot against the Jews. Violence breaks out on Easter Sunday, 1903, and when it finally ends, Rachel finds that the person she loves most is dead and that her home has been destroyed. As she struggles to survive the aftermath of the riots – or pogroms – support comes from someone totally unexpected, when a young Russian named Sergei turns against his father, a police officer complicit in the riots, to help Rachel.
With everything against them, the two young people find comfort in the bond that is growing between them, one of the few signs of goodness and hope in a time of chaos and violence.