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 * Genre: Historical Fiction
Today, as a part of the coffee pot Book Club, I’m happy to feature Beneath a Veil of Smoke and Ash.
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.
“Kovac! Stop starin’ at that crowbar!” the crane operator yelled. “Tap the goddamned furnace already.”
Janos flinched. He’d almost forgotten where he was. He quickly raised his bar and knocked the hole out in the furnace door. He watched as glowing red fluid gushed from the door into the ladle waiting in the eight-foot-deep pit below the furnace. The heat was so intense that his already damp work shirt was soon drenched and clinging to his body. Sparks flew, singeing the hair on his arms. Janos imagined this was probably what hell looked like, glowing red flames all around. He half expected to see the devil crawl out of that raging pit.
Once the ladle was brimming with molten steel, Janos backed far away from the path it would take to the molds. “Ready, Pat?” he shouted.
The crane operator nodded his head and waved his arm. He began to lift the massive ladle out of the pit. Janos continually surveyed the ladle’s progress and scanned the area to make sure everyone was at a safe distance.
And then the unthinkable happened.
Just as the crane was about to swing toward the molds, Janos heard a loud crack. It was sharp and quick and reminded him of a firecracker his neighbor had set off the last 4th of July. He watched in terror as the ladle carrying a hundred tons of molten metal crashed to the ground. It exploded on impact, sending splatters of fiery liquid twenty-five feet in every direction. Janos’s blood ran cold as he witnessed a worker being struck by the blast.
Horrified, he ran to the far side of the furnace where Tomas Tomicek was lying on the ground, much of the left side of his body burnt beyond recognition. Janos fought the urge to retch.
The scent of the man’s burning flesh was pungent, like meat frying in a pan.
Trembling and blinded by tears, Janos knelt beside his co-worker and grabbed his right hand, which had been untouched by the molten metal. Poor Tomas now looked like half a man. The skin on the left side of his face had been melted by the scorching steel, revealing his cheekbone and jawbone. The other side of his face remained completely intact, looking just as young and healthy as it had moments before. Tomas’s left arm, shoulder, and upper chest had also melted. The brown work shirt he’d been wearing had disintegrated, revealing a grisly mixture of flesh and blood. Janos had never seen a more gruesome accident at the mill. He knew there was no hope.
He leaned closer, positioning his face inches from Tomas’s. Praying to the Holy Spirit for guidance, Janos struggled to find the words that might comfort a dying man. Through quivering lips, he whispered in Slovak, “Lie still, Tomas. Stay calm.” He squeezed the man’s hand. “Your brother will be here soon.” Janos glanced up at the chaos surrounding him. Men ran frantically in every direction, desperate to find Tomas’s twin brother.
At the sound of a guttural moan, Janos turned his attention back to the young man. He was trembling now, coughing up blood. Tears streaming down his face, Janos tried to reassure him. “God is with you, Tomas. His healing hands are upon you. He is cradling you in his arms.”
Janos could no longer maintain his composure. He began to weep.
Suddenly, Pavol Tomicek appeared, panic-stricken, hands outstretched. “Tomas! Tomas!” he screamed. “No!”
Pavol reached his brother’s side and, seeing what was left of his charred and blistered body, dropped to his knees in violent sobs. He reached for his brother’s hand, but it was too late.
Janos had felt the dying man’s hand go limp in his own just seconds earlier. Tomas Tomicek was already gone.
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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Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tammy-Pasterick/e/B08RSJN7D4
Thank you for reading. I wish Tammy good luck with her novel. Have you read any novels about immigrants during this time period?