Leeanna's Reviews > Letters from Rifka

Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse
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's review
Jun 01, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: i-own
Read in May, 2010

Letters from Rifka, by Karen Hesse

I first ordered "Letters from Rifka" from a book magazine when I was a kid, and it's a book I've held onto for about a decade.

Rifka and her family are Jews in a time when Jews are hated by the Russians. Jewish boys are enlisted into the Russian army against their will, forced to do hard menial labor such as digging latrines. Jewish families are terrorized, and are generally afraid for their safety. The only way out is to leave the country, and go to America.

A clever girl, Rifka keeps a record of the journey by writing letters to her cousin in a book of Pushkin's poetry. Each new letter starts with a quote from a Pushkin poem, and each snippet neatly fits the events described in that letter. I normally don't care for poetry, but the quotes added an authentic feel to the letters, and really set the mood for me.

The main story follows Rifka and her family as they flee for America, and the family runs into several problems on their journey. First typhus, then ringworm strike, and Rifka is separated from her family for over a year to undergo treatment. Sent to Belgium while the rest of her family goes to America, Rifka experiences a degree of independence she'd never before known. When she finally reaches Ellis Island, Rifka is tested yet again. Will she be able to join her family in America?

"Letters from Rifka" is a good introductory book for children interested in Jewish history, and particularly for girls. Rifka is a very strong character, and her struggles are triumphs are inspiring. The author based the story in part on a relative's experiences.


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