‘Her Sister’s Tattoo’ Is an Insightful and Compassionate Tale of Sisterhood and Activism

Ellen Meeropol’s last name is famous among those of us who still recall the tragic case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were put to death in 1953 after being convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage. Their two young sons, Robert and Michael, were adopted by a couple named Meeropol, and the author is married to Robert. “Her Sister’s Tattoo” (Red Hen Press), Meeropol’s engaging and compelling new novel, is not about the Rosenbergs, but the case casts a long shadow over the book.

The story Meeropol tells in “My Sister’s Tattoo” opens in 1968, a time when Americans took to the streets to protest war, racism and poverty. Esther and Rosa Levin, sisters raised by progressive parents, are chanting, “Hey, hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?” Horse-mounted cops are wielding billy clubs, and tear gas is in the air. But Esther is thinking of her 5-month-old daughter, Molly, who is back home with a babysitter, and she is torn by the contradictory roles she feels called upon to play: “If she were stronger or braver, maybe she could do everything: be an activist and a mother and an artist.”

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