Life is hard in post-Civil War New York, but change is in the air.
Women are agitating for the vote and other rights. Immigrants are pouring into the city, bringing a new spirit in their wake.
Among them is Freydeh, who lives in a tiny tenement flat with eight others and works at as many jobs as she can handle in hopes of raising enough money to bring her beloved family over to America from Russia. And she has a dream: someday, she will own a place and a business of her own.
Then she receives a letter - many months after it was first posted - containing devastating news: her parents have died in a cholera epidemic.
After their death, Freydeh's sister set off to America without them, all by herself, and according to the letter would have arrived in the port of New York many months earlier.
Freydeh is horrified and terrified for her little sister, who appears to be adrift somewhere in the city.
Freydeh puts everything else aside and launches a search to find her, which turns into something of a hunt for a needle in a haystack.
Interweaved with Freydeh's story is a vividly wrought account of the suffragette movement and the fight to secure women's rights.