My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I loved this book!
I have Irish in my family, great-great-(not-sure-how-many-time-great)-grandparents, who came over in the mid-1800’s and settled here in America. So I already had a deep interest in reading a historical fiction type of novel about what it would have been like to emigrate to America.
What does a woman do when she is torn between love of country and family loyalty?
Eileen did not have a happy childhood. A stern religious father and a mother who did not show outward affection…not a happy home! however, she finds solace in the home and company of a neighbor family, and a childhood friend in John.
After some events that caused friction between herself and her parents, she chooses. Marriage and John over pleasing her father… and the family is estranged.
However, tragedy intervenes and Ellie finds herself stepping into the gap. America and an old friend offer a job, money, and a way to fix their problems, a way she can help John and repay some of the joy he brought into her childhood.
The story of her trip to America and the changes she experiences were so absorbing I could hardly put down the book!
Ellie is fascinated with her new life and encourages her husband to come live with her in America:
“I bought a lace tablecloth from a Polish woman who was selling them on the street near my office. I went to Macy’s and bought linen napkins, which I embroidered myself with small shamrocks, and a tray cloth to match. I purchased new bed linens, too, and washed them out several times so that they were worn and soft…
I cleaned and polished and dusted every corner of the apartment… I repainted the chairs in the kitchen with pale blue gloss, and I even bought a “toaster” – an electric machine for toasting sliced bread….”
But, once again, a family situation calls her back to Ireland, and now she is faced with an even harder choice. Go, or stay? America or Ireland? John, (her husband), or the rich, attractive and self-assured Charles? Life as a career woman with all the comforts of electricity, nice clothes, and entertainment… or as a poor farmer’s wife in Ireland?
“I remembered how truly unhappy I had been there, and yet I had no sense of fear or dread. Instead a kind of defiance took me over. I had been right to run away, from the house, from my parents and their miserable life – into the warm arms of John and his family. There was nothing for me, good or bad, in this place.
My mother opened the door and the two of us stepped into the cold, dusty hallway. The curtains were drawn throughout the house and it was as dark and silent as a tomb…”
However, there is something inside of Ellie that hungers for more than just things; and the author expresses this tug that so many women over the centuries have felt and tried to express. That creative outlet that seeks for fulfillment… Anne Morrow Lindbergh,in her journals, is one example of many women who feel that tug of competition between her writing and her home life as a wife and mother:
“I would cook and clean and mend and soothe and love my way through the rest of my life. I was a wife and, when the time came, mother. For all that I loved John, for all that my heart knew my life was to be played out in this place with him, it wasn’t enough. The nuns had told me I could have been a teacher and, but for my marriage to John, it would have happened. In New York I had been a typist, but now that I was home all my education and training were begin wasted. It was no longer that my life did not feel grand enough, but rather that the part I was playing in it was too small. It was not that I wanted for anything in itself – but that I knew I was capable of more than simply being in the service of those I loved. There was a nugget of life inside me that was hungry: growling and unsatisified. A part of me that wanted more.”
Will Ellie find what she is searching for? Can she find fulfillment in being simply John’s wife in her home country?
“The dresser was well stocked with simple crockery and basic food, but there was so much that needed doing to make this place into any kind of a home. The day was dull and the room darkened with rain clouds. I looked absentmindedly around the white walls for a light switch, and with growing horror absorbed the magnitude of what I did not have. No electricity. No electric lights; no electric cooker; no electric iron. I had become as reliant on electricity as I was on my own breath. I wanted to cry.
No sink; no toilet; no shower; no soft towels or nice soaps or scented tinctures. The list went on and non those first few days. the primitive living conditions were not a surprise to me, and the absence of many of the smaller household items could have been remedied. Nonetheless I could not stop my mind becoming a litany of what was missing. My resolve hardened with each new lack…. I would insist that John come with me to America.”
I have to say I did see it coming… but the solution was a creative one! This book has been on my ‘to read’ list for a long time! I finally downloaded it as a library rental on my nook…. but boy, I have to say I am going to look for a hard copy of this one for my bookshelf!
I can hardly wait to read the next book in the series (“City of Hope”).