Lit and Life: Review of On the Sickle’s Edge


The buzz worlds for this book are: Jewish literature; Eastern Europe, Latvia, Russian Empire, Bolshevik Revolution, Stalinist era, Soviet-era life and politics, Moscow. So many interesting things!

The book opens with Steven lying in wait outside a dacha, with a gun. We won’t know why for several hundred pages because we almost immediately start Lena’s story. Frankel moves along at a good pace explaining how a Jewish Latvian family came to be living in South Africa when Lena was born, why some of them returned to Latvia, leaving two of Lena’s brothers behind, and then immigrated to Russia. But life in Russia was even harder for Jews, and the family had to make a life-altering decision that would have ramifications through the next two generations.

Lena becomes a more interesting character as the book progresses, passionate about her family, resilient, fierce and fearless. In her life she loses brothers, a sister, a husband, a child, which makes her all the more determined to do things the right way when her granddaughter, Darya, is placed in her custody. Much to Lena’s dismay, Darya becomes a perfect Soviet citizen which leads her to fall under the spell of a man who will cause long-held secrets to be revealed and puts the entire family in grave danger.

Just as I’d suspected, there was much to learn in this book about aspects of the history of Jews in Russia, the evolution of Russia into the Soviet Union and back again, and life in the Soviet Union for average citizens. The novel was based on Frankel’s own family history, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many other Jewish families were similarly affected.