Friday, 15 October 2010

Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan

Pages -357

Published in 2009 by Pan Books

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. My mother didn't approve of boys, or playing, or of very much at all outside of cleaning the house and protecting our privacy.

I was interested in reading this book after I saw it in the library, not long after reading Brooklyn by Colm Toiben.  I had convinced myself that basically both books contained the same story. Young Irish girls goes to New York to live a new life and make money.  To an extent both books were very similar, as both followed an almost identical journey. The only part I found to be really different were the endings.

In Ellis Island, Ellie goes to work in New York in order to pay for her husband John's operation. John was heavily involved in the IRA and was shot during the War of Independence, resulting in such a serious injury that without an operation he wouldn't be able to walk again. Ellie has no qualms about going to live in America or about travelling there alone and you cannot help but admire her braveness.

Once Ellie settles into servitude in New York, she quickly falls in love with the country and wants to stay there permanently. She is a very determined lady and soon rises up the career ladder. Her original plan to stay one year is dashed as she stays a further three. Ellie tries to encourage her husband to come and live with her, but he has no wish to and the distance puts a strain on there marriage.  She soon falls for the charms of an American aristocrat, but romance is dashed, when she is summoned back to Ireland where her father lays on his death bed.

I found this a lovely book to read. I admit that the story really didn't take off for me until Ellie moved to New York, but after that I couldn't put it down. It reminded me a little of  Breakfast At Tiffany's with it's vivid descriptions of life in New York during the Jazz Age.

As soon as Ellie was summoned home to Ireland, you watch as the poor girl's life changes dramatically. She goes from having it all to living with the bare minimum. To have it all, then to have experience sheer poverty would be hard on anyone. No electricity, no running water, no modern technology at all, which she had loved and grown to expect in America.  However Ellie is a strong and feisty character and does overcome her losses,going onto become a much better person. Not content to stay at home as a housewife, she opens a shop, which soon becomes the most popular one in the village.

I did feel that this book expanded on my historical knowledge. Kerrigan's finely crafted story brought to life the details of emigration to America, as well as the plight of the Irish during the beginning of the century. It left me craving for more information on this topics. 

This is a wonderful romantic historical drama, which makes a great accompaniment to Brooklyn by Colm Toiben.

12 comments:

  1. Sounds like another book I'd like. I love historicals and especially historicals in which I actually learn something.

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  2. Both this and Brooklyn really appeal to me, especially at the moment when I'm trying to find my footing in a new place. Of course, things are radically different now than they were back then (I'm sure turn of the century immigrants would have killed for Skype), but I suspect the general feeling of estrangement will still feel familiar.

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  3. I love immigrant stories, so this sounds like a book I would enjoy too.

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  4. I love strong female characters and this one appeals very much to me.

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  5. Great review Viv. I've never heard of this book before but it definitely sounds like one I'd like.

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  6. Terrific review, Vivienne! I have seen Ellis Island from a distance; now may be the time to see it closer, in a book.

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  7. Nice review Viv!
    Not sure if it's for me though

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  8. This sounds really good, especially the descriptions of New York during the jazz era.
    Great review! Ellie does sound like a great character.

    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

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  9. Immigrant stories are oftentimes --the best. Sounds like a good one.

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  10. I can't remember hearing about this book before but it totally sounds like something I'd like. Great review Vivienne. I still want to read Brooklyn after you mentioned it. We need more time! :)

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  11. Kate Kerrigan said...
    Thanks for the lovely review Vivienne - so nice to get the great feedback in the blog-world. love your blog!
    Warmest thanks - Kate Kerrigan.
    P.S. You can check my blog out at katekerrigan@blogspot.com

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