The Singing Fire
A key event in this novel is the meeting of two young Jewish women, one from Poland and one from Russia, in Whitechapel in the 1880s. Nehama has been living in Frying Pan Alley for a number of years before Emilia makes her way to the area. Rebellious Nehama came to London alone, but with hopes of bringing her family after her, so they could escape a situation becoming increasingly perilous for Polish Jews. She receives a brutal introduction to London, and the fact that she can later rebuild her life shows a triumph of her spirit. Emilia, of a much more refined, though desperately unhappy, family, comes to London with problems of her own. In her desire for better things, Emilia doesn’t stay in Whitechapel long, just sufficiently to have a profound impact on Nehama’s life.
The author has conjured up a vivid world, full of the sights and sounds and smells of this Jewish ghetto. The milieu is almost as much a character as the people. Nattel has used an engaging device in having older women, ghosts, accompany the young women to the new country, watching over them in lieu of any living relatives. The story isn’t sugar-coated in any way; evil and pettiness co-exist alongside great sacrifice and love. Just like life.