This beautifully written but oddly constructed novel at first appears to be what is called in the book trade a three-generational saga. But then it abandons that proven form, with mixed results.
The first third of the book describes in warm and interesting detail the first year in the marriage of a brilliant Lithuanian peasant girl, Eve Markoff, as she takes up residence in the sprawling home of her tyrannical father-in-law. There she makes a kitchen shared by five women seem a constant party as she gives reading lessons, treats illnesses, sews beautiful dresses for anyone who asks, and makes everyone fall in love with her, including the reader.
This tiny readhead engineers a power struggle to oust her father-in-law from his reign of terror over the family and achieves not only fair pay for the men but also higher status (a place at the dinner table) for the women of the household, and this at a time when women--old world Jewish women in particular--were considered mere chattal.
Then her quest for freedom takes her beyond the Markoff kitchen, and she begins to dream of escape to America. But as the author ticks off the years . . . 1892, 1893 . . . Eve is so convinced that her beloved husband David is "a man of destiny" that she won't let him walk away from what she describes as "this deathwatch we're keeping over Russia."