Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash
Set amid the factories and coal mines of western Pennsylvania, Pasterick’s novel follows several interconnected families over the course of seven years. In 1910, Slovak immigrant Janos Kovac supports his two children and his widowed sister by working in a dangerous steel factory while his wife, Karina, keeps house for the factory’s manager. Dreaming that her boss will take her away from the town and give her a life of ease, Karina allows him to exploit her sexually. She neglects her husband and children, but when her boss betrays her, she conspires with two other workers for revenge, altering the course of everyone’s lives. Their 11-year-old daughter, Sofie, is best friends with Pole, a neighbor boy whose brutish, drunken father joins the conspiracy and drags the boy out of town when the plan goes bad. Karina runs away as well, and her son Lukas’s efforts to catch her cost him a leg in a terrible accident. Seven years later, Lukas has a patron and the life of which his mother had dreamed. Sofie longs to see Pole again, and Janos has fallen in love, but Karina’s return once again threatens to ruin everything.
Told from multiple characters’ points of view, the story is heartfelt and moving. Pasterick’s characters are realistically flawed but at the core good people trying to make a life for themselves and their families under difficult circumstances. Readers gain an appreciation for the Slovak culture that centers family, solidarity in the workplace, and generosity toward those who have even less. Based on the author’s family stories, this novel draws us into the world of those who built a nation during the Industrial Revolution.