When We Were Strangers
Genre: Historical Fiction
Summary (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.
Review: Quite simply, I loved this book! It's the story of a young woman who makes the difficult decision to immigrate to America on her own, then works hard to find her place in her new country. Irma is a strong woman to face all the challenges that she encounters and she's full of hope for a better future, yet she is also shockingly naive about the dangers she faces. Her voice is clear and simple and very real, and I appreciated how she struggled with some terrible moral decisions. My biggest complaint is that Irma had truly terrible luck - it seemed like every misfortune that could befall a new immigrant happened to her at some point, but she struggled through and in doing so, discovered her true place in life. The descriptions of her hometown in Italy and the various cities she traveled through and lived in were so real that you could almost smell them. This book really brought the immigrant experience to life, and made me curious to read more books about that time in history.
Rating: 5 stars