American Ending

Written by Mary Kay Zuravleff
Review by Anne Leighton

Yelena is a first-generation immigrant to America. Life for her family in Russia was hard, and America represents a new future. A life in a Pennsylvania Appalachian mining town in the 1910s means hope for her whole family. But life in Marianna, Pennsylvania, offers day-to-day hardship, coupled with the hazards of working in a coal mine. For the boys, there is no option but to follow their fathers into the mines, and for the girls, there is only marriage at fourteen, early motherhood, and a hard existence that extinguishes all hope.

Yelena wants more. As the first of her family to be born in America, she considers herself different. She is an American and believes there can be more to life in this new country.

And change is at the heart of the immigrant experience. Yelena and her family learn to live in harmony with Polish and Irish immigrants and then face the daunting process toward citizenship. When Yelena falls in love with Viktor, life regains its promise. But Viktor’s health is undermined by work in the mines as the coal dust irrevocably damages his lungs. He and Yelena must move to a place where Viktor can find work and where Yelena can set up a home.

Inspired by her own family’s history, Zuravleff fashions a story that is at times sad but magnificently inspiring. It is a story of hardship but also of hope and courage. Zuravleff exhibits a master’s touch in creating characters that are real and moving and who pull the reader into their experiences. The reader wants to follow Yelena and Viktor in their voyage together in their new life. This is a fine book that cries out for a sequel. For lovers of historical fiction, it is a book which must be read.