It is important to identify the key role that Esther plays in this excellent novel. In fact, the text so centres on her and her development and maturity in the face of the massive difficulties that she confronts that it could be called a bildungsroman, which is a story that focuses on the development and maturing of one individual as they face the difficulties of life.
Let us remember what Esther faces. In a very short amount of time, Esther's world is turned upside down. She has to leave her childhood home of beauty, warmth and family and faces a massive journey to an unknown location with her family who are shocked by what has happened to them. She arrives in a bleak village in Siberia along with others who have been classified as "capitalist enemies."
At first, Esther's youth and intelligence means that she is unable to understand what has happened to her and her family, and she constantly questions what is going on around them. For example, when she is being freighted to Siberia, she asks her mother where the bathroom is. However, in spite of her innocence, when she gets used to her situation, she shows that she is immensely fearless in confronting what is going on with her and uses questioning to help her adjust to her new way of life. Even as she develops and matures, her keen curiosity is one of the defining aspects of her life, as she meets the challenges of day to day living with a curiosity that shows a passionate interest in life.
Thus the contribution of Esther to this excellent novel is that she is the main focus of it and the action of the novel follows her development as she moves from being an innocent and inquisitive girl to being a mature and inquisitive young woman.