In contrast to those who joined wagon trains to seek their fortune in the American West, John Hughes and his workers trek east. Shipping the machinery needed for his ironworks across the steppe by bullock train, Hughes heads for the land he’s bought from Count Beletsky, who has no time for either foreigners or industry. Beletsky is at odds with his wilful, forward-thinking son, Alexei, who is protected by his quick-witted grandmother, the Dowager Catherine Ignatova.
Nearby is the Cossack village of Alexandrovka, where men hew coal out of shallow pits, and a Jewish shtetl, home to Nathan Kharber, a doctor forced to return to his village by the death of his parents. To Nathan’s horror, he discovers his sister Ruth has fallen in love with Alexei. He knows, as they do, that if their love is discovered both risk being ostracized, if not killed, by their communities.
The trek from the port of Taganrog to the immigrants’ new home is long, onerous, and beset by problems when the autumn rains begin. Fighting mud and disease, Hughes’s party are escorted by the Tsar’s Cossack soldiers. There, on the journey, Alexei discovers it is not only the civilian Cossacks he and Ruth need to fear, but an entire regiment hell bent on wiping Jews from the face of the earth …
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