Summary: Living in 1903, a Jewish girl named Rachel witnesses her friend being brutally murdered by his uncle and cousin. Scared of becoming a target of the uncle’s violence, Rachel keeps what she saw a secret, until the local Russian newspapers use the murder to foster anti-Semitic attitudes. Tension rises is Kishinev, Russia, until on Easter Sunday everything erupts into violent riots against the Jewish community. Rachel has kept the secret of who Mikhail’s true killers are too long, and after that night, Rachel’s life and family will never be the same.
Number of Pages: 243
Age Range: 14-16
Review: Based on actual historic events, Rachel’s Secret by Shelly Sanders is a harrowing read. I understood why Rachel felt she needed to keep Mikhail’s murder a secret, especially since his uncle was a member of the Kishinev police force. What I didn’t understand at first was that Rachel thought Mikhail was killed because he kissed her.
Imagine the guilt she must have felt. I know that was the fictional part of the story, but thinking the murder, which led to the articles about Jewish ‘blood rituals,’ which led to the riots, which led to the deaths and the destruction of lower Kishinev all began because of a kiss must have been devastating.
In the face of all of the hatred building up in Kishinev, I appreciated Sanders’ storyline about Rachel and Sergei falling in love, because it lightened the mood a bit. I enjoyed the complexity of Sergei being the police chief’s son, watching him make bad decisions that escalated the situation because it influences the kind of man Sergei becomes.
I think I’m still a bit in shock after reading Rachel’s story. I didn’t know about the riots in Kishinev before reading Sanders’ book, and once again I am struck by the enormity of everything Jewish people have endured over the years. It’s just one thing after another. Sanders’ does a gut-wrenching job of giving her reader a picture of the devastation left after the riot, to the land and its’ people.
Rachel’s Secret is the first in a trilogy, and is a worthy edition to the historical fiction genre.
“Even though Cecily has money, she is miserable because she has no purpose other than serving her husband. Rachel would rather be alone, writing and traveling, than be married to someone who didn’t encourage her to follow her dreams.” – Rachel from Rachel’s Secret by Shelly Sanders, page 5
“Rachel couldn’t speak, and she could take her eyes off Chaia. She felt as if she were watching from afar, that none of this was happening. Chaia had done nothing to deserve this. Neither had Mr. Macklin or Mr. Berlatsky or Mr. Grienschpoun – or their children, now fatherless. Their only shortcoming was their faith, a crime in the eyes of gentiles. Rachel peered at Chaia’s listless face, and began to wonder if believing in something you couldn’t even see – faith – was worth all the trouble it brought.” – Rachel from Rachel’s Secret by Shelly Sanders, page 142
“Rachel tossed and turned, groaned, and sat up. A soft light from the moon streamed in through the window just like it had at her house, reminding Rachel that the outside world was unchanged, unaffected by these riots. For people far away in Petersburg and Moscow, life would go on as usual. And the Bessarabetz, filled with the lies that had led to these attacks, would continue to be published without penalty. It all seemed bitterly unfair.” – Rachel from Rachel’s Secret by Shell Sanders, page 153