I’ve been a fan of Ellen Meeropol’s novels for ten years. Her three previous books merged personal drama with social justice. But not until Her Sister’s Tattoo has Meeropol so masterfully grasped the political strife in our country since the 1960’s. And as a true novelist can do, she allows us to experience the turmoil through the intimate lives of two characters whom we come to know and understand.
Rosa and Esther Levin are caught up in the passion and violence of the anti-war protests of 1968 in Detroit. When protest marchers are bloodied by the mounted police, the sisters spontaneously take an action to distract the police that would seem innocuous, even childlike. They hurl apples at the police. But a horse is spooked and a police officer is horribly injured. In that one moment, their lives change in unimaginable ways, driving a brutal wedge between the two sisters that will endure for decades. The dynamics of loyalty to family and one’s conscience become the battleground for a truly American novel.
Late in the book, (I’m not giving anything away here) a character says, “The Levin sisters taught me it’s not your family that determines who you become. It’s not even your abilities. Your choices define you.”
We all make choices every day that define us, but some of us make choices with more lethal consequences. Will our loyalties reside first with our loved ones, or should we sacrifice even our freedom to a larger belief in what is right? Meeropol pulls back the curtain on the lives of two sisters in the midst of this and by doing so, pulls back the curtain on a history of political activism that reverberates through time. For those with an eye for politics and fiction, Ellen Meeropol’s novel will not disappoint.
Her Sister’s Tattoo by Ellen Meeropol. Red Hen Press, April 2020.
About the reviewer: Jacqueline Sheehan, is a New York Times Bestselling author and a psychologist. Her novels include, The Comet’s Tale a novel about Sojourner Truth, Lost & Found, Now & Then, Picture This, The Center of the World, and The Tiger in the House. She also writes essays including the New York Times column, Modern Love. She is one of the founders and former president of The Straw Dog Writers Guild in Western Massachusetts. She teaches workshops at Writers in Progress in Northampton.