Publication Date: 21st September 2021
Publisher: She Writes Press
Page Length: 371 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
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.
Karina Kovac heard the harsh caw of a crow passing overhead as she began her walk to work. She looked up at the early morning sky and frowned. The gray cloud of soot greeted her as it did every morning. No matter the time of day or season, the eerie mass hung, thick and heavy, casting its dismal shadow over her, darkening her mood.
She imagined the town along the river had once been beautiful—before industry and progress had blanketed the valley in a veil of smoke. But the Riverton she knew was ugly and depressing. The buildings were covered in a dingy layer of grime, and the air was an assault on her senses. It was only slightly less suffocating than that of Pittsburgh, which was ten miles downstream. The steel capital of the world was famous for its perpetually dark sky, which often necessitated the use of street lamps during the day. Karina’s neighbors, most of them newly arrived from Eastern Europe, were unbothered by the smoky haze smothering the region. To them, it signaled opportunity and the promise of a better future. Jobs and prosperity.
Karina hated that gloomy sky, cursing it daily. It followed her everywhere, mocking her and laughing at her lack of success. She had failed to acquire the comfortable lifestyle she’d envisioned when she left Austria-Hungary over a decade earlier, and that sky wouldn’t let her forget it.
Karina had known it would take time for her and Janos to build a new life, but she’d never expected it to take so long. Working as a housekeeper in the town’s wealthiest neighborhood gave her a glimpse of what she and her family had not yet achieved. Her current employer owned every modern convenience she craved. Electricity. Indoor plumbing. A spacious kitchen with the latest Garland gas cookstove and McCray refrigerator. All had been installed in the mill manager’s new Foursquare home.
Karina stood in awe before the door of that refrigerator every morning, marveling at how fresh the food stayed. Her family’s ancient ice chest smelled of souring milk and had to be scrubbed constantly with Old Dutch Cleanser.
As Karina endured her daily coughing fit near the steel mill’s towering smokestacks, she heard a sharp whistle coming from a worker in the rail yard. She rolled her eyes. Though her housekeeper’s uniform was boring and drab, she still managed to attract unwanted attention. Perhaps her elaborate hairstyle had caught the man’s eye. She’d spent a ridiculous amount of time fussing with her hair that morning in the hopes that the executives coming from US Steel’s Pittsburgh offices would take notice of her. While she was grateful for the position in Henry Archer’s home, she longed to work at one of the grand estates in Shadyside or Squirrel Hill. What a relief it would be to get lost among an entire staff of servants.
Karina sighed as she thought of the first weeks in her employer’s home. She had wandered dreamily through the rooms, fingering the fine linens and switching the lights off and on, for fun. She’d soaked in the bathtub and napped beneath an expensive, snowy white Marseilles quilt. She thought she’d found the perfect escape from her dreary neighborhood and her job at the boarding house, but little did she know, the luxury of working in that home would come with a price.
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.