Shelves: contemporary-fiction , historical-fiction All of us dream someday to find the perfect person to marry. Sometimes we find that person in our very best friend we have grown up with. Now much older we see them in a different light. Once just someone who we would climb trees with, scour the land for small animals and even walk us home from school, now they have matured into something much more. Living a life that he considers proper he wants only the best ethical life for Ellie, however when Ellie sees fit to fall in love with John and runs away to get married, it will create a dividing line for Ellie between her and her family. Now living with John struggling to make ends meet in a run down college in the midst of war between the Irish and the British, Ellie worries that John efforts in helping out in the war will be their undoing.
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Forced to take drastic measures in order to survive, Ellie does what so many Irish women in the s have done and sails across a vast ocean to New York City to work as a maid for a wealthy socialite. Once there, Ellie is introduced to a world of opulence and sophistication, tempted by the allure of grand parties and fine clothes, money and mansions. Yet her heart remains with her husband back home. And now she faces the most difficult choice she will ever have to make: a new life in a new country full of hope and promise, or return to a life of cruel poverty.
Ultimately, the story is much richer for it. The first half of the novel follows the traditional story-telling format. Girl meets boy, girl marries boy. The happily-ever-after, however, does not come, as both John and Ellie are swept up in the Irish revolution. Hardship follows, as one knows it must.
For, she is going to earn money for her husband, rather than being the one left behind waiting to be send for later. She is the one to blaze the pioneer trail for her family, leaving all that is familiar for the unknown all because of the love she holds for John and the belief she has in their marriage.
Her growing self-awareness and strength are predictable, as she lands in New York harbor during the roaring Twenties — that golden era when women were grabbing new freedoms and rights, when the spirit was one of adventure, and everyone just wanted to have fun. Ellie truly does come into her own in New York, blossoming and embracing the new culture as any modern woman is wont to do.
Love and sticking by that love for richer and for poorer tends to be the vows spoken but not necessarily reality. One reads about all of the immigrants who came to America for a better life but very rarely do we get a glimpse of those who opted to go back across the ocean.
How does the hustle and bustle of the United States, especially during the s change a person? Can one ever truly go back? Ireland and New York in the s are revealed in great detail, making the contrasts between the two worlds more transparent.
The reader can feel the tension as ancient antagonisms against the British rule sparks the revolution and call for home rule. Kerrigan presents the attitudes, opinions, customs, and other minutiae of the day with no fuss or embellishments. My only fault with the novel is its title. Only two brief scenes actually take place on Ellis Island, as this is not a novel about an immigrant but about a woman and her journey who just happens to go through Ellis Island on one of her stops along the way.
Ellie is a character who quickly generates sympathy with the reader, and her journey of self-discovery is as pleasurable as it is fascinating from a historical perspective. An Irish village and New York City in the s really were two different worlds, and her ability to maneuver through the two makes for a great story and excellent history lesson.
Thank you to Mary Sasso from Harper Perennial for my review copy! All content on this blog is protected under US copyright by Michelle Shannon. All content is original and cannot be copied without permission. All affiliate income is used to support the blog.
Ellis Island: A Novel
The first time I fell in love with John, I was eight and he was ten. One day, Maidy Hogan called down to the house with a basket of duck eggs and asked my mother if I could play with her nephew. His parents had both died of TB and he was sad and lonely, she said. But for his aunt coming to ask for me in the way she did, my mother would never have let me out to play with him.