Horodno Burning Release Date

September 21, 2021

“This gripping novel brings history to life.”
David Ebenbach, author of the novel How to Mars

"Richly drawn, deeply compassionate, and moving—a book about how words and stories can change us, save us, give us hope, make us more human, more humane." Lex Williford, author of MacCauley’s Thumb, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award

Horodno Burning cover

The front cover shows a digital reproduction of a Marc Chagall painting. Born in the Pale of Settlement, Chagall drew on his early years in Vitebsk for artistic inspiration throughout his life. Flying Carriage (1913), with its blend of modernism and folk art, expresses both trauma and transcendence—interconnected and recurring themes throughout Jewish history.


Horodno Burning 

Between 1881 and 1914, one-and-a-half million Jews emigrate from the Russian Empire to America. The vast majority never look back. Repression, revolutionary upheaval, and starvation beat down any inclination towards nostalgia for the old country, even though some, like my protagonists Esther and Bernard, have roots there from the fourteenth century. In the 1860s, they grow up in Horodno, a market town alongside the Neiman River. 

About the Author 

When I'm not cutting next winter's firewood, pulling weeds in the garden, or off on an adventure with my wife, Patricia, I'm probably staring at my computer, waiting for inspiration.

After thirty years as a teacher and principal in Vermont schools, I took up writing and became active in the Burlington Writers Workshop. I published short stories, the Vermont Studio Center accepted me into their week-long summer writing camp, and I participated in the AWP Writer to Writer Mentorship Program. Those opportunities provided the support and confidence I needed to finish Horodno Burning, a love letter to literature, freedom, and Jewish survival.

It started with pieces of family history and an overactive imagination: the arranged marriage between my great-great-grandparents, Estes and Bernard, at ages twelve and fourteen; escape from service in the czar's army; pogroms; a harrowing trip from the Pale of Settlement to America; a reverence for books; and radical politics.

After seven years of false starts, rabbit-hole despair, and manic work in bursts of inspiration, those fragments turned into a completed novel.

Michael Freed-Thall