Leaving Family Behind
by Jerome Peterson
Strategic Book Group 271 pages
www.strategic book club.com
When Jonas Violettskus gets a letter confirming a job in America, he dreads having to relate this news to his outspoken, feisty younger sister, Evelina. It's all he faces and worse. She's furious and after browbeating her brother with insults she staunchly refuses to consider the idea. She has plans for her life that do not include sailing off as immigrants to a new and unknown land.
Their parents, Petras and Marija are typical of the mindset of the Lithuanians in the late 1800s. Only immediate families are close, ignoring all other relatives, even grandchildren, except for the occasional holidays. Petras was a disappointment to his own family of typical farmers, when he chose to become a furniture maker — a shoddy one at that. And so his own family is poor, which leads Marija to insist that, at 14 years old, Evelina must work. It is a decision that changes her life and realizes her own dreams. Irena Jurateski is a rich widow who takes a fancy to Evelina, giving her piano lessons on her hours off from her work in the kitchen.
Their father contracts typhoid fever and dies a delirious, painful death. Jonas takes over his father's furniture business at 15, and Marija begins doing sewing for Jonas’s older friend, Antoine. Evelina does not miss her cold distant father, but her mother and Jonas do. Still they are able to survive without him as Evelina continues her piano lessons, soon becoming a prodigy of great renown in the area, bringing famous music teachers to her concerts held at Irena’s home. Evelina is happy doing what she loves. Jonas is not and secretly plans for his trip to America. When their mother is suddenly struck down by two horses pulling a wagon and spooked by the noise of one of the rare motorcars, Jonas feels his time has come.
Soon his papers from America arrive giving him 90 days to accept his new job in a furniture store. Evelina is forced to give up her dreams of an almost certain spot in a famous music school, and leave Irena and the friends she's made. In the early 1900s, in Lithuania, as in most places, she is bound to obey her idiot of a brother until she becomes of age.
Author Jerome Peterson writes excellent prose in the vernacular of the Lithuanian people and time period. He is especially adept with the sites and ambience of both Lithuania and America. It's impossible not to be drawn into the culture, feelings, the sights, smells and diverse conditions of the places Jonas and Evelina pass through on their long seemingly endless journey to a new land and different life. Only one of them is happy about it.
Jonas and Evelina share many adventures and hardships traveling through Europe and across the Atlantic Ocean to America. Each holds to their original dream. Will either attain it? Author Jerome Peterson describes their new lives with his usual vivid imagery and adept writing skills; leading to a most unusual and remarkable ending to a fine book.
Reviewer: Micki Peluso, writer, journalist, and author of . . . And the Whippoorwill Sang