Sunday, June 5, 2011
Book Review: When We Were Strangers
Irma leaves her village and takes a harrowing sea voyage to the United States when her home situation becomes untenable. She encounters many hardships along the way as a woman on her own in a strange place where she doesn't know the language.
I don't want to issue spoilers so I won't tell you any more of the story than just that. This book is incredibly well-written and remains tragic until perhaps the last 20 pages of the book. I guess you could say there is a "happily ever after", but the book is difficult to read in many places. My heart broke for Irma. I held my breath for her. I saw trouble coming and was loathe to endure yet another peril. But I kept reading.
I am certain that this was precisely how the situation could have been for a young woman, barely 20, traveling along to a foreign land during this time period. The book truly draws you into that time period, those cities (Cleveland, Chicago, New York/Ellis Island). It was often a painful read. So saying I "liked" it might not be the right wording. It is a story of survival against overwhelming odds. It is a historical snapshot of a time in our history. It is a study in gender and class inequality. And it made me darn happy I didn't live through that time. I honestly don't know that I would have WANTED to go on, given some of the circumstances that Irma found herself in.
It's a story that's hard to look away from...like some bad accident. You read sometimes peeking between your fingers or groaning at the unfairness of it all. Have you read it? What were your thoughts about it?