Pre WWI immigration was obviously as hard as it is now. Escaping Germany a family arrives in the US. Elsa and Sonja are the two girls in the family and they know that in their father's eyes they are second best to their baby brother. With the sudden death of their brother, their father disappears never to be seen again and Nina and the two girls are on their own.
Not knowing the language and finding everything strange to them, they settle down to a life of unrelenting struggle and hardship. All find jobs of the most menial kind but Elsa knows that if she is to get ahead she has to get some form of education and how she is going to get this whilst working full time is hard. But she perseveres and gets it. A fair knowledge of English to begin with and this along with her determination to succeed pushes her slowly but surely out of the bottom rung of the ladder.
Whilst her sister Sonja finds happiness in marriage, Elsa who is a plain girl plans her career as a maid and a translator for German documents for a businessman. The encounter with the family carves out a relationship with the teenage daughter of the family and it is this that is going to be the pivot of Elsa's future. Going through WWI and America's entry into the war turns everything around for Elsa who finds herself without a job, finding a German surname a hindrance of the most dangerous kind and being a maid to the frivolous Dafne who just whiles away her time waiting for the war to end.
The story of Elsa ends happily fortunately (I was glad after all the years of struggle!). Full of detail about the immigrants plight in this time and the sweat shops and factories in the cities and then descriptive of America's entry into the war the story was a piece of history as well as a family story.
Sent to me by Netgalley for an unbiased review, courtesy of Sillan Pace Brown.