In the journey of brothers I have developed a character, Meyer Stein, whose travels and travails are a composite of the experiences of several Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine whom I knew, including my own paternal grandparents. These incidents are used to place an historical outlook and are not meant to be taken literally. For instance, my protagonist takes a southern route to Liverpool, much more interesting than the northern route that went through Warsaw to Hamburg on the North Sea that most immigrants including my grandparents took, mainly on foot (fussgehers).

Meyer was born in a Shtetl, or Jewish village, within the Ukrainian town of Strizhavka, 5 miles north of the larger town of Vinnitsa in 1883. This community had a number of settlers from Galicia who came to this area in the early 19th century, mainly for economic reasons. Among those who migrated was Meyer's paternal grandfather, Aaron Stein, who traced his own paternal line to the Alsace region between France and Germany. I bring up this family background to explain why Meyer is fluent in German, is not pious, and has many features that make him look non-Jewish.

Meyer's mother dies when his younger brother, Ephraim, is born three years after Meyer. Meyer associates the loss with Ephraim and harbors resentment towards him. Ephraim is wild and does not have scruples. The two boys along with an older brother, Reuben, are raised by spinster aunts, sisters of their mother. After the Prologue that ties the beginning to the end, the story begins with a flash back to a time in the 1880's when Meyer's village experienced an attack by youths from another town, a pogrom.