Shelley Davidow's multi-generational memoir begins in 1913 with her Jewish great-grandfather Jacob escaping the pogroms of tsarist Lithuania for the rigours of life in the American Midwest. The English language eludes Jacob, who struggles to make a decent living in his adopted country. Poverty contributes to his wife's untimely death. Jacob's son and daughter are consigned to a Jewish orphanage. Loss and sorrow seem to afflict Jacob's family, as if hardship is genetically encoded, and can be passed down to future generations along with his innate musicality.