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Tour: Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash by Tammy Pasterick

Book details:

Book Title: Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash

Author: Tammy Pasterick

Publication Date: 21st September 2021

Publisher: She Writes Press

Page Length: 371 Pages

@Archaeolibrary, @maryanneyarde, @TammyPasterick,

#CoffeePotBookClub, #BlogTour, #HistoricalFiction, #PittsburghHistory, #PennsylvaniaHistory,

It’s Pittsburgh, 1910—the golden age of steel in the land of opportunity. Eastern European immigrants Janos and Karina Kovac should be prospering, but their American dream is fading faster than the colors on the sun-drenched flag of their adopted country. Janos is exhausted from a decade of twelve-hour shifts, seven days per week, at the local mill. Karina, meanwhile, thinks she has found an escape from their run-down ethnic neighborhood in the modern home of a mill manager—until she discovers she is expected to perform the duties of both housekeeper and mistress. Though she resents her employer’s advances, they are more tolerable than being groped by drunks at the town’s boarding house.

When Janos witnesses a gruesome accident at his furnace on the same day Karina learns she will lose her job, the Kovac family begins to unravel. Janos learns there are people at the mill who pose a greater risk to his life than the work itself, while Karina—panicked by the thought of returning to work at the boarding house—becomes unhinged and wreaks a path of destruction so wide that her children are swept up in the storm. In the aftermath, Janos must rebuild his shattered family—with the help of an unlikely ally.

Impeccably researched and deeply human, Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash delivers a timeless message about mental illness while paying tribute to the sacrifices America's immigrant ancestors made.

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Work in the mill makes a man old before his time. That was what the grown-ups in Sofie Kovac’s neighborhood always said. She thought of this tired expression as she studied the figure of a man hobbling across the courtyard behind her house. He was barely visible in the early morning fog, but seemed to be headed for the communal privy just steps from her back porch. He was a steelworker, like her father, but looked much older. He shuffled along slowly, clutching his knee with each labored step. Sofie crossed herself, praying her father wouldn’t suffer the same fate.

She refocused her attention from the window back to the bacon grease. It flowed, like liquid gold, from the cast iron frying pan into the Mason jar she struggled to keep steady on the kitchen counter. She had dropped Aunt Anna’s grease jar once before and watched the precious drippings from a week’s worth of meals slide between the cracks in the floorboards. She shuddered at the thought of repeating that mistake.

Aunt Anna had lectured her for days about the value of all those flavorings now resting permanently in the dirt beneath the kitchen floor. “Like tossing coins into the river,” her aunt had scolded.

Sofie held her breath and tightened her grip on the jar as the last few drops of grease plopped from the frying pan onto the hardening pile of sludge—the key ingredient in all her aunt’s recipes. The pan now empty, she let out a sigh of relief.

“Do you need some help, zlatíčko?” Papa asked, his footsteps growing louder as he neared the kitchen counter.

Sofie shook her head. “The bacon’s a little crispy. I left it on the stove too long. If Mama hadn’t distracted me—”

“You never told me why you’re making breakfast this morning instead of your aunt,” Papa said, changing the subject.

“I had a nightmare. I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I told Aunt Anna I’d do the cooking today.”

“You’re so thoughtful,” Papa said as he bent to kiss Sofie on the forehead. “Do you want to tell me about the nightmare? Sometimes it helps to talk about it.”

“No, not really.” Suddenly, a haunting image flashed before Sofie’s eyes. Her father’s lifeless body lay on the ground in front of a furnace, blistered and burnt. It was the same disturbing vision that appeared in her sleep every few weeks. Why was it now tormenting her in the light of day?

“So what’s for lunch?”

“Bacon sandwiches, leftover fried cabbage, and an apple,” Sofie said as she fidgeted with the items in her father’s beat-up tin lunch bucket. It was badly dented and covered in grime, but one of her favorite things. Seeing that bucket on the kitchen counter always made her happy. It was proof that her father was home safe from the mill.

Once Papa’s lunch was packed, Sofie filled two plates with eggs and bacon and placed them on the wobbly kitchen table. She sat down across from her father, who was extinguishing the oil lamp. He looked tired, his eyes still heavy with sleep. A ray of sunlight pouring through the kitchen window accentuated the gray in his freshly combed hair, making him look older.

Sofie stared at the tattered brown shirt her father wore. He’d ripped off its sleeves since his work in front of the furnace was so terribly hot. In fact, anytime Aunt Anna bought him a new shirt at the second-hand store, Papa promptly tore off the sleeves and gave them back to her for use as cleaning rags. How Sofie wished Papa could wear a suit to work every day. He’d be so much safer in an office job. She slammed her glass of water onto the table, startling herself.

“Are you all right?” Papa asked. “What’s got you so upset? The nightmare?”

Sofie nodded. “Mama, too,” she grumbled as she shoved a fork full of eggs into her mouth. She wasn’t even hungry. She was still angry about her mother’s lame excuse for not joining them at the neighbors’ that evening. The Sears Catalog? Sofie never understood why her mother spent so much time staring at clothing she couldn’t afford.

“I’m sorry your mother hurt your feelings.” Papa patted Sofie’s hand. “That happens too often.”

Sofie wondered whether Mama had hurt his feelings, too. She’d angrily brushed Papa’s hand away when he’d laid it on her shoulder. Mama always ignored his affections. Sofie couldn’t remember the last time she saw her parents share an embrace. They were so different from the other couples in the neighborhood. The Lithuanians across the street acted like they might never see each other again when the husband left for the mill each morning.

“Why don’t you tell me about your dream,” Papa said, stroking Sofie’s hair.

She laid down her fork and studied her father’s concerned face. She hated bothering him with her troubles. He had a fair amount of his own.

“I’m listening.”

Sofie could no longer resist the urge to confide in her father. “It was the same one I always have—you’re at work in the mill, in front of your furnace. And there’s an accident . . .” Sofie’s eyes filled with tears. “It’s a little different every time, but the ending is always the same.” She began to cry.

Papa reached across the table and pulled Sofie into his arms. He rubbed her back as she buried her face in his chest. “You need to stop worrying about me. The mill is dangerous, but I’m careful. I have years of experience.”

“Will you please quit?” Sofie pleaded, looking up at her father. “Can’t you find a safer job?”

“I wish I could, but only the mills and mines will hire immigrants,” he said, shaking his head.

A native of Western Pennsylvania, Tammy Pasterick grew up in a family of steelworkers, coal miners, and Eastern European immigrants. She began her career as an investigator with the National Labor Relations Board and later worked as a paralegal and German teacher. She holds degrees in labor and industrial relations from Penn State University and German language and literature from the University of Delaware. She currently lives on Maryland's Eastern Shore with her husband, two children, and chocolate Labrador retriever.

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Tour hosted by: The Coffee Pot Book Club

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