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As revealed by the title of Talia Carner’s latest novel, The Third Daughter (William Morrow, 2019), her heroine, Batya, has two older sisters. Both ran off with men their parents could not tolerate, placing a heavy burden on Batya to compensate for her sisters’ failings by making her parents happy.

When her family is forced to flee its home in a Ukrainian village to escape a pogrom, losing most of its goods, Batya helps out by taking a job at a local tavern. There she meets Yitzik Moskowitz, a smooth-talking, well-respected, and obviously well-off visitor who soon convinces Batya’s father to give his third daughter’s hand in marriage. Moskowitz promises to wait two years before making Batya his wife, but he insists she travel with him now, because who knows when he will return to Ukraine?

Although only fourteen, Batya agrees to accompany her future husband on his journey. But after one night on the road, she discovers that what the “Man from Buenos Aires” wants from her has nothing to do with marriage. After a hideous journey across the Atlantic, Batya ends up in an Argentinean brothel, enslaved to the legal trafficking organization Zwi Migdal. For a while, she longs for death. But strong and resilient, she learns to adapt and even finds solace in unexpected places.

Based on a series of stories by Sholem Aleichem, some of which became the basis for the popular musical Fiddler on the Roof, this fifth novel by a committed social activist is not always an easy read. But it is an essential and compelling read, not least because although set in the late nineteenth century its story is as contemporary as yesterday’s headlines.

C. P. Lesley is the author of nine novels, including Legends of the Five Directions (The Golden Lynx, The Winged Horse, The Swan Princess, The Vermilion Bird, and The Shattered Drum), a historical fiction series set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible, and Song of the Siren, published in 2019. Find out more about her at http://www.cplesley.com.

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