Synopsis: In 1911 New York City, nurse Clara Wood has survived the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and goes to work on Ellis Island to escape her memories. In September 2011 in New York City, Taryn Michaels is forced to face her memories of 9/11 when a photo of her taken on that day is discovered and printed in a magazine. A marigold scarf connects the two women.
Review: This was an interesting book. I can’t say that I loved it, but I definitely liked it. It was chosen for my book club, and I am glad that I read it. This book goes back and forth between New York City in 1911, 2001, and 2011. In 1911, nurse Clara Wood was working in the Asch Building when the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire happened, and she witnessed that tragedy, and lost someone she loved in the fire. She goes to Ellis Island and focuses on her nursing work to forget her pain. In September 2011, Taryn Michaels, who works in a fabric store, has tried to live after witnessing the tragedy of 9/11. Taryn lost her husband in 9/11, and she had just found out she was pregnant that morning. That morning, Taryn was going to meet her husband, who worked in the towers, to tell him the good news. On her way there, she was delayed, due to a marigold scarf. That same scarf is one that appears in Clara’s story at Ellis Island. It belongs to one of the sick immigrants. How the scarf makes its way from Clara to Taryn is part of the mystery of the book.
I loved the weaving of the parallel stories throughout, but the focus of this book is actually more on Clara at Ellis Island, and I wanted to hear more about Taryn, in modern times. Clara was involved in some questionable decisions pertaining to one of the patients, she finds out some information that she debates on whether to tell or not to tell. I felt she was too involved, and her dilemma was too overworked. She was also a little bit annoying. I felt more connected to Taryn’s story, and I think this may be because even though I’ve read about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, I didn’t see it, I’ve only seen pictures. But with 9/11, we’ve all seen the videos, heard the stories, we witnessed the tragedy. I’m in California, so somewhat removed, but 9/11 was felt everywhere. We all remember what we were doing when we heard the news. So the section of the book where Taryn is right there, and living the 9/11 tragedy was very difficult to read. Certain scenes in the book I will always remember. This was the first book I’ve read where 9/11 played a big role in the story. I’m not sure I will read another one – it was almost too much. The theme of grief, and the different ways people deal with grief and loss is very strong in this book. Another theme of the book is love. These themes are explored in powerful ways, and I admit, this book did make me tear up in several places, so read it with tissues handy!
There is a marigold scarf that ties Clara’s and Taryn’s stories together, and that was a good plot line, to trace an item from one person to another throughout time. It helped to connect the stories and really highlighted how many stories antique items tell. It’s part of why I love antiques – I’m always interested to know where that piece has been and what it has seen.
This was a book chosen for my book club, and it was a good book club selection! Our group ended up having a lot to discuss, and it turned into a lively discussion. There is so much about Ellis Island that you learn during reading this book, and those sections were very interesting. I’ve never visited Ellis Island, but I did have family that arrived in America and went through Ellis Island, so it was fascinating to read about what the immigrants went through, and I was trying to picture my great-grandmother there and how scared she must’ve been. This is not a book I would re-read, due to the 9/11 content and my irritation with the character of Clara, but I am glad it was chosen as a book club selection. This was my first Susan Meissner book, and I would definitely read other books she has written.
Bottom Line: Interesting, well-written book. A good discussion book.
You might like to read:
- Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland: Fascinating tale of the woman who worked closely with Louis Comfort Tiffany. Rich with historic detail about stained glass and New York City, this also brings in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and this book was the first where I had heard about the tragedy. For anyone who loves art or history. I wish this book were illustrated.
- The Postmistress by Susan Blake: Set during WW2, the ethical decisions in this book are similar to what Clara faces on Ellis Island. To tell or not to tell …
- The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh – a great story that focuses on communicating through flowers, and what each flower means. This book is actually mentioned by the author in the author’s interview at the end.
Added to my own “to be read” stack:
- Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes – The book opens with a beautiful quote from Don Quixote, and it’s high time I read this book!
- The poetry of John Keats – a book of poetry plays a prominent role in this story, and I truly haven’t read much poetry at all.
- Other Susan Meissner books that sound interesting – from what I can figure out just from reading the descriptions of her books, it seems she likes to jump back and forth between time (love books that do that), and also has some kind of a “link” between the characters
- Secrets of a Charmed Life – this one appears to jump back and forth between current day Oxford, England, and 1940s England and it involves sisters being separated.
- The Girl in the Glass – this one has Florence, the Medici family, and intersecting story lines as well.
- A Sound Among the Trees – this one has Civil War history, and a house with secrets
- Lady in Waiting – an antique ring, and the story of Lady Jane Grey
And I’m off to go read and write some more!