Written in free verse, Audacity is a beautifully told story of a poor, young immigrant girl who eventually became a leader in the 1909 Uprising of 20,000 labor movement. Clara Lemlich Shavelson was born to a Jewish family in the Ukraine who were forced out of their home during the Kishinev pogroms – anti-Jewish riots. The only daughter of the family, Clara was stubbornly outspoken and refused to bend to her parents’ will regarding her education and future. She secreted books, teaching herself languages and far surpassing her three brothers in learning.
When the family is forced to immigrate to America, the long and arduous journey takes its toll, but they arrive with hope of a better life. Clara’s father, a rabbi, insists on spending his time schooling his boys, while Clara is expected to work. Unfortunately, the only option open to her is hard labor in the famously horrendous factories, in which she is locked in the extremely hot or cold building for 12 hours or more, can only take one restroom break at lunch, and is assaulted by the male overseers. Clara single-handedly forms a group to strike against the injustices and greatly influences the newly emerging labor laws.
One thing that should be stressed about this book is that the format should not deter an otherwise interested reader. The verse is free rather than rhyming, and the length, 400 pages, would be half if written traditionally. In addition, I found the style smart and poetic – not in the least off-putting. Clara Hemlich Shavelson is a greatly intriguing historical character with a perhaps little-known background that is accurately and lyrically described in this unique rendering.