Ruth begins her story by telling James that she is "dead". The girl who was born Ruchel Dwajra Zylsky on April 1, 1921 in Poland, and who immigrated to America, settling in a small town in Virginia, is gone. In America, her name was changed to Rachel Deborah Shilsky. Her father, Fishel Shilsky, was a traveling Orthodox Jewish rabbi who married his wife, Hudis, according to the Jewish laws of contract: theirs was never a marriage of love. Ruth describes Tateh (Yiddish for "father") as a "fox" and Mameh (Yiddish for "mother") as "gentle and meek." Mameh was crippled on her left side because she had suffered polio as a child, and was nearly blind in her left eye. Rachel began going by "Ruth" in high school, and when she left for New York at age 19 and married a black man, her family mourned her as if she were dead. Ruth reflects: "[Rachel]had to die in order for me, the rest of me, to live."