George Kracha is the first immigrant of a Slovak family to come to America. We follow him and his wife to the new world, where we learn of George's employment in the steel mills. His wife is very enterprising and decides to take in boarders at their own home to help make ends meet. George soon opens his own shop, which does very well at first, but he loses everything due to some indecorous behavior on his part. Not long after this scandal, his wife dies.
In the next generation, George's daughter Mary marries Mike, who also works in the steel mills. She, too, takes in boarders to help support their four young children. Tragically, Mike is killed in a steel mill accident and the steel company only offers $75 in compensation. Mary has a very difficult time after Mike's death and is often quite ill. She misses Mike terribly and
almost wished that the dead could take with them the memories of the living.
Mary's son Dobie is the focus of the next section of the book, and his story is the most hopeful. Dobie has become a workers' rights advocate, even setting up unions in the steel mills.
While the stories of the women appear to be more in the foreground in this book, I would argue that women are the backbone of the story. While George Kracha is cavorting with his mistress and subsequently ruining the family business, his wife is taking in boarders. She dies for her efforts. When Mike gets killed, Mary has no choice but to keep working so she can feed her children. Mary contracts a life-long illness that leads to her early death. The women suffer as mightily as the men do. Even though the work of the women is not as backbreaking as then mens' work in the plant, it is by no means an easy life.