At the start of this novel, Sara Smolinsky is an immigrant child growing up on New York's lower east side with her parents and 3 sisters. Nicknamed “Blut und Isen” (Blood and Iron) by her father, she is strong-willed and determined to help ease the family's poverty stricken status. She collects coal ashes for heat and sells mackerel for 2 cents each. She longs for a better life, one where money and hunger is not the main issue of her life.
As she grows up, Sara watches her religious father who follows the ways of the old-country as he marries off each of her sisters to men with money (or the appearance of money) in order to insure a large dowry. She feels for her sisters as they push aside their hopes for a marriage of love and follow their father's will dutifully, yet spitefully. The determined Sara chooses a different path. She enrolls in the local night school and begins studying to become a schoolteacher. She leaves her parents and attends college where she earns a degree in education and obtains a job teaching in a New York elementary school. Sara succeeds in her quest for the American Dream and eventually learns to deal with her father and wins his support.
This report prepared by Samantha S.