In this sweeping new novel written by Pamela Schoenewaldt, we meet Irma Vitale living at the top of a tiny village in Abruzzo, Italy in the 1880’s.
Irma’s chances of finding a suitable husband are none and none. Her mother is no longer alive, and her sisters have left. Her father is no good. Her older brother flees in the night to make passage on a ship. He says he will get work in Africa to pay his way on to American.
Finally, Irma has had enough. With the help of her aunt and the family priest, she pays passage on a ship sailing for NYC. It’s a wonder the voyage doesn’t kill her. I don’t know how anyone lived through these crossings back in the day.
Irma chose to continue on to Cleveland where she thought she might find her brother at some point. What she ends up finding in Cleveland is not what she intended. We follow Irma through what I might guess many immigrants experienced at this time. They were exploited and treated badly. Here they think they are coming to America, the land of freedom and plenty, only to find in many instances that their lives are worse.
Schoenewaldt has sweetened this harsh story with lovely prose that brought lightness to my heart. There is nothing better than really great writing. No wonder Barnes & Noble chose “When We Were Strangers” to grace their Discover New Writers bay this spring.
This is not just another coming of age story. Everything does not turn out all peachy. But it is worldly and realistic. Irma proves to be a strong woman who travels across the world to change her life. How many young women do you know who would be able to do that at the age of 20?
I am happily looking forward to the next book by this amazing new author.