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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Review: When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
Genre: Fiction
Paperback, 336 pages
Book Source: TLC Book Tours
My Rating: 96/100

From Goodreads:

"If you leave Opi, you'll die with strangers," Irma Vitale's mother always warned. Even after her beloved mother's passing, 20-year-old Irma longs to stay in her Abruzzo mountain village, plying her needle. But too poor and plain to marry and subject to growing danger in her own home, she risks rough passage to America and workhouse servitude to achieve her dream of making dresses for gentlewomen.

In the raw immigrant quarters and with the help of an entrepreneurial Irish serving girl, ribbon-decked Polish ragman and austere Alsatian dressmaker, Irma begins to stitch together a new life . . . until her peace and self are shattered in the charred remains of the Great Chicago Fire. Enduring a painful recovery, Irma reaches deep within to find that she has even more to offer the world than her remarkable ability with a needle and thread.

My Thoughts:

Irma is an innocent, young, naive woman who embarks on a journey to America from her sleepy little Italian town of Opi in the 1880's, the time when waves of immigrants were coming to America. A dangerous journey to be sure, but Irma is blessed and lucky enough to meet kind and caring strangers along the way. Irma does not know the ways of the world and how cruel and mean people can be. Irma only sees the the good in people. It is this innocence that makes her so endearing. You want her to succeed.

After landing in New York, Irma's journey takes her to Cleveland, Chicago, and finally San Francisco. Along the way Irma finds herself in very precarious circumstances. As I was reading this story, in my mind I was thinking, "Irma turn around! Go back!" I didn't want to see Irma get hurt. Some may say Irma had some really bad luck, but she didn't. Although Irma endured terrible events, she was lucky enough to have survived. And to have survived as a strong woman who still tried to believe there was good in the world, is a miracle. Irma could have let events change her for the worse but she didn't. Irma's self-preservation and determination is admirable, and by the end of the story she has grown into a remarkable woman.

Irma lost her mother at a young age and the women who befriend her at each stop in her journey are a substitute for her mother. They offer her advice or a shoulder to cry on; just what Irma needs to get by. Each of these women represent the good that can be found in the world in not so great circumstances. They may be strangers when they meet, but they touch one another in ways that make them closer.

Schoenewaldt has written a wonderful story in such a small amount of pages. These characters stay with you long after the story is over. Not only do we get to know Irma, but also what she represents: the spirit, unbridled passion, and hope that many immigrants brought with them to America. They came to America with practically nothing, and endured terrible things. Yet they survived and helped make this country what it is today.

This was an amazing story and I loved it! I would be more than happy to see either Irma's story continue or read another tale from Schoenewaldt. Her writing was enjoyable and transported me to another place. I was able to lose myself while I read this story, and for me that's important.

For more information about Pamela Schoenewaldt please see one of the following:
*Her website
*Her blog

For more information about this book, you can also visit the master tour page at TLC Book Tours.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours for my review copy.

2011 Challenges Met:  HF