They've brought their treasures with them: silver candlesticks, embroidered tablecloths, leather books, feather pillows, and blankets. They're ready for the trip that many Jews took - a long, rough ocean voyage from Europe to America.
For young redheaded Mina the voyage is an adventure, an opportunity to sketch the many different people traveling to America, and to finally be with her Papa again. She's traveling with her mother and brother.
When the story begins on a dock in middle Europe, we see the people on the boat from artist Mina's point of view. She watches and sketches passengers at their daily tasks. Then the story is told through the eyes of quiet, desperately unhappy Rachel, who has lost the man she was engaged to. From her we learn of fears and dreams and of her father's and her sadness in leaving her mother behind, too ill to travel. We are also introduced to a young mother, Golda, traveling with her baby to join her husband, and see the people on the boat from her perspective.
Adele Geras has written a fascinating book about the plight of many Jews at the turn of the century. She succeeds in catching the sights and smells aboard ship as well as the innermost feelings of the passengers, even as they change during the voyage. Her assemblage of characters forms a community aboard ship, a microcosm of the world.
Ms. Geras develops a strong, perceptive book in an almost lyrical writing style. Because of the changing storytellers, the novel does make demands on the reader; yet, this reviewer finds it well worth the effort.