PROMISE ME ETERNITY is one of those books that tears your heart out. It is a very well-written human drama that keeps you reading even as you wished you'd never started the book. It is a snapshot of the underside of civilization, what happens to the dispossessed. Worse, it is the step-by-step disaster of what is happening to many women, particularly refugees and immigrants, who arrive in America only to find the promised land has more than a few snake pits.
Overall, the book's theme is life is a struggle just to survive, and every day you live through is a good day simply because you lived through it. No one knows what is going to happen tomorrow and living life one day at a time is both treacherous and debilitating. The story focuses on a 17-year old Jewish immigrant, Alexei Zagoradniy, living in a gruesome foster home in rural Texas. She gets married because that is one of the few routes into the working class. That, she discovers, was a very big mistake. Her husband is abusive and she finds himself in the same dire straits in America as she was in Russia. Pregnant, she runs away across rural Texas and lives with the helpless, homeless, lost population of America. In the depths of the book and her depression, she gives birth in a service station bathroom. The book is, if nothing else, a commentary of America today, where every city has a growing population of homeless men, women and families who are caught in an ever-expanding whirlpool of misery with no escape route.
The book is unusual because it is a mix of narrative and ‘conversations’ Alexi has with herself and her diary. It is a clever dynamic because the ‘dialog’ shares what she is experiencing along with her thoughts of not only the here-and-now of the situation but her anticipation of events to come. Hope does not become a possibility until late in the book when she meets another helpless, homeless individual, a man in the same condition as Alexi. The book's finish is her expectation from her newfound partner in life that he will “Promise me Eternity.”