Anetka is determined to pick out her own husband, even though it isn’t traditional in nineteenth-century Poland. But a letter from her father and a doomed encounter with a Russian soldier soon change her life forever.
And that’s not the only thing that Anetka is stubborn about. The Russian Czar, who rules Poland, has forbidden the people to speak or write Polish. The schools are taught in Russian, and only Russian is spoken on the streets. But Anetka gathers the village children at her grandmother’s house every week to teach them Polish. Her life is busy. She helps her grandmother with the chores, teaches the children, tends her beehives, and worries about the Polish boys who are forced into the Russian army. Then one night she’s awakened by shouts and the smell of smoke. The shoemaker’s shop had been destroyed by the Russians, who want to make an example of the Jews. Angry, Anetka goes the next morning to help the Levys clean up. When she bumps into a young Russian soldier, she angrily asks him why Russians have no hearts. Instead of getting angry, he smiles at her, asks her name and tells her his is Leon. Although she thinks he is flippant and rude, Leon keeps showing up in her life. He’s even the one who brings her the letter that changes her life completely.
She gets a sign, but it’s far from what she was expecting. She is attacked by a Russian soldier who’s found out about her Polish classes. But before she is hurt, Leon appears and knocks the man unconscious. Now there is no doubt that Anetka and Leon must leave Poland as soon as possible. The revenge of the Russians is sure to be swift and cruel. Her grandmother gives her ticket to Leon, they pack quickly, and leave as soon as it is dark.
On the Fourth of July, Anetka finally meets her future husband. He asks if she likes children, and when she says yes, he takes her to his shanty, and introduces her to his daughters, ages six, four, and three. Anetka can’t believe it! Stanley doesn’t want a wife, he wants a mother for his children, the oldest only seven years younger than Anetka herself!