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Book Club Reading Guide 

Daughters of the Occupation



On one extraordinary day in 1940, Miriam Talan’s сomfortable life is shattered. While she gives birth to her second child, a son she and her husband, Max, name Monya, the Soviets invade the Baltic state of Latvia an occupy the capital city of Riga, her home. Because the Talans are wealthy Jews, the Soviets confiscate Max’s business and the family’s house and bank accounts, leaving them with nothing.

            Then, the Nazis arrive. They kill Max and begin to round up Jews. Fearing for her newborn son and her young daughter, Ilana, Miriam asks her loyal housekeeper to hide them and conceal their Jewish roots to keep them safe until the savagery ends.

            Three decades later in Chicago, twenty-four-year-old Sarah Byrne is mourning the untimely death of her mother, Ilana. Sarah’s estranged grandmother, Miriam, attends the funeral, opening the door to shocking family secrets. Sarah probes Miriam for information about the past, but it is only when Miriam is in the hospital, delirious with fever, that she begs Sarah to find the son she left behind in Latvia.

            Traveling to the Soviet satellite state, Sarah begins her search with the help of Roger, charismatic Russian-speaking professor. But as they come closer to the truth, she realizes her quest may have disastrous consequences.

            A magnificent, emotionally powerful story of family and the lingering devastation of war, Daughters of the Occupation explores how trauma is passed down in families, and illuminates the strength and grace that can be shared by generations.

Rachel's Secret

ISBN 978-1-926920-37-5

Inspired by true events


Rachel is a Jew living in Kishinev, Russia in 1903. At fourteen, Rachel wants more from life than the expected role of wife and mother. She dreams of being a writer. But life takes a devastating turn when her friend, a Russian boy, is killed, and the local newspaper prints lies and anti-Jewish propaganda, blaming Jews for the crime. Rachel, who silently witnessed the murder, is forced to keep the attacker’s identity a secret. Because he is a policeman and the police openly despise Jews.


The fraudulent headlines ignite a pogrom (massacre) against the Jews on Easter weekend, lasting three days and destroying the Jewish community. When the violence finally ends, Rachel discovers the person she loves most is dead, and her home has been ruined. As she struggles to survive the aftermath of the riots, support comes from someone totally unexpected—Sergei—a Russian boy who was a friend of Mikhail’s. Sergei turns against his father, the police chief, who was complicit in the pogrom, to help Rachel. With everything against them, Rachel and Sergei 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.

Rachel's Promise
ISBN 978-1-927583-14-2


Inspired by true events


It is 1904, and Rachel and her family flee Russia to escape the continuing riots against Jews. They take the Trans-Siberian Railway across the country and board a ship to Shanghai, where Jews are accepted without papers. Life is difficult and strange in this new city, but Rachel’s luck changes when she gets a job writing for the Jewish newspaper, Israel’s Messenger.


Meanwhile, Sergei has gone to St. Petersburg in search of a job to support his family. He begins work in a factory, a grueling and dangerous occupation that induces him to join rebelling socialist workers.


Through letters, Rachel and Sergei share their hope of moving to America to start better lives, but tragedies in both of their lives could make this dream all but impossible.

Rachel's Hope

ISBN 978-1-927583-42-5

Inspired by true events


Rachel, an 18-year-old Jewish woman, has been forced to leave her Russian homeland because of the anti-Semitic violence that shattered her family. After a tumultuous stay in Shanghai, she has finally realized her dream of coming to America.


But her achievement is marred by the fact that she’s lost contact with Sergei, her Russian friend from her hometown of Kishinev. She doesn’t know if he is alive, in prison, or injured; if she had even a hint of his tortured existence, she might wish she’d never wondered.


In California, Rachel meets and is inspired by women’s activists Emma Goldman and Anna Strunsky. And her relationship with her family becomes strained by growing her desire to assimilate, to be American. Rachel won’t let anything prevent her from achieving her goals—not even the San Francisco earthquake.


Will Rachel and Sergei see one another again?

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