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Touched by Fire    by Irene N. Watts order for
Touched by Fire
by Irene N. Watts
Order:  USA  Can
Tundra, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Irene N. Watts' Touched by Fire is an immigrant story, sensitively told, which also incorporates a tragic historical event, the biggest factory fire in US history, that took place in 1911 New York City.

We meet five-year-old Miriam Markowitz and her family in 1905 Russia, where she has nightmares of fires after Cossacks burn their home and they have to flee their shtetl to live in Kiev. There Miriam plays with her best friend Malka and her father works very hard, saving rubles for a surprise. But her younger brother Yuri dreams of being a soldier himself.

Soon after Malka's family leaves suddenly, Papa takes his family to Berlin. But though they have esacaped the Russian Tsar, Germany's Kaiser has similar views about the Jews and that country will not prove a refuge for long. The family all work hard, saving their money. They learn English from a tutor, Kolya, and a baby sister, Devora, is born.

Finally, Papa has saved enough to sail to the Golden Land, intending his family to follow. But complications arise and eventually, only fourteen-year-old Miriam takes ship on her own to join him in Lower East Side, New York. She is fortunate to make a new lifelong friend aboard ship, Rosina from Italy. It is a hard journey but they survive it, and the immigration inspection on Ellis Island.

Rosina ends up living with Miriam and her Papa. The girls, and another new friend, Beckie, all work at the Triangle Waist Company, where Miriam is reunited with Malka once more. But this is also where tragedy strikes and Miriam relives her old nightmares.

Miriam is an engaging character, and her story a compelling one, with an intriguing and satisfying Epilogue in 1933 Berlin. Don't miss Touched by Fire.

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