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Book Review: Shayna by Miriam Ruth Black by Madeline Fussy


Shayna, by Miriam Ruth Black, is the beautifully written tale of a Jewish woman fleeing Ukraine after her shtetl, or village is ransacked and burned to the ground. While the shtetl was ravaged at the hands of antisemitic soldiers, Shayna huddled inside a tiny chest in her barn. Cramped up and gasping for air, she waited out the pogrom until it was safe. Then, running through her village, she gathered the survivors of her friends and family. Finding only her nephew Dovid, her fiancé Yussi and soon-to-be mother-in-law Manya, she then plans to flee the country.

After burying their dead, they began their journey to America. When outside forces throw a wrench in their journey, the rag-tag bunch sticks together to overcome adversity. Shayna's resilient spirit is the fire that keeps them going. Before long, Shayna and company find themselves boarding the ship for their long voyage across the sea. The sea's rolling waves nauseate them; the journey torments them, leaving them weak when they reach the American shore.

After reaching America, the four are taken in by Shayna's brother Ulkeh. They soon learn Ulkeh is not to be trusted. He is a bad man, a shmuck. To escape Ulkeh's control, Yussi begins working as an apartment manager, and Shayna works as a fashion designer. With growth and love, they begin to think of themselves as a family. The family members find their own places in America and achieve their dreams without forgetting their heritage.

In her riveting novel, Shayna, Black uses exceptional writing skills. Black displays her talent as an experienced writer throughout the novel with her ability to describe a scene that pulls the reader right in. While less experienced authors may seem to tell the reader, Black shows the reader and immerses them into Shayna's world with rich descriptions and carefully crafted words. Each sentence is like a work of art. Black seamlessly weaves both the Yiddish words and phrases into the larger English narrative to immerse the reader into the culture and the world of the characters. The reader will find themselves learning the Yiddish phrases and picking them up quickly, laughing along with the characters' witty remarks.

In this gripping narrative, the characters grapple with what it means to be religious and how to become a part of a new country without losing themselves. The character of Shayna is strong, resilient, and an inspiration for those around her. Shayna is a character who empowers women; she thinks for herself and never lets anyone tell her how to live. Yet, she never loses her fighting spirit. Throughout the novel, she questions whether there could be a God who lets such unspeakable things happen to his people. So naturally, she experiences anger towards her God and struggles to believe.

In contrast to Shayna is her fiancé, Yussi, with a deep faith and devotion to God. When he gets to America, he soon learns that the Jewish people no longer follow the traditions he had grown accustomed to. He grapples with how to fit in as a Jew in America without letting go of his heritage. The novel shows the grittiness, the truth. It shows both the happier times and the uglier times. It effortlessly captures life's ups and downs, making it astonishingly realistic.

One of the hallmarks of a well-written novel is characters who grow and change, characters who develop throughout the novel. The main characters in Shayna show tremendous growth. Shayna, who flees her village as a mere teenager, grows into a strong woman who gives her family the courage to carry on and pursue a better life for themselves. She leaves behind her childish self and learns the worth of hard work. However, she never loses her spirit or gives up on her dreams. This beautiful novel tells the tale of a young girl growing into a relentless and spirited woman who follows her lifelong dream of designing beautiful dresses. A true inspiration, Shayna works to achieve her goals despite all the heartache that life has thrown her way.

A reason that you might shy away from reading Shayna is if you consider historical books to be boring. However, I can assure you that while the novel does depict a historical time period, it does not read like a history textbook at all. Instead, it is an intriguing and enthralling read that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The world in the novel is immersive, and the characters feel real; they are just like people today with their own hopes and dreams, with conflict and problems. For history lovers and history haters alike, I would highly recommend Shayna to anyone looking to read a powerful and stirring novel that grapples with fitting into a modern world without losing where you came from.

This novel is an excellent read. It is a beautiful story of overcoming hard times and finding yourself, even when all seems to be lost. Shayna is an inspiration to keep fighting, never give up hope, and be true to who you are. It is powerful, gritty, and gripping. While it may stir up painful memories, especially for those who have experienced traumatic events, it is a novel that inspires hope and urges us to live on after catastrophic events in our lives. This is the perfect book to read in today's world as we emerge from a global pandemic. Shayna will inspire readers to keep living. After all, we have lost these last few years. I would give this book a 5 out of 5 stars. It is a brilliantly written book, and I did not want it to end.

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