by Esther Friesner
I haven't been able to stop thinking about this book.
Honestly, I don't think it was the most well-written story I've ever read; just that it grabbed me by the collar and wouldn't let go. Now that it's over, I keep wondering about the characters. Although the story is based on fact, I have to keep telling myself that they're not real people. And if they were real, (the victims and survivors of the actual fire were indeed real, and through these characters, I imagine a fragment of their story is being told here) they would not be around to confirm their stories at this point.
Let me back up.
One hundred years ago in New York City on March 25, 1911 the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire consumed more than the building... the fire was deadliest industrial disaster in the history of New York City. True story. The sub plots in the book lead up to the awful re-telling of the fire. The reader becomes acquainted with the main character, a young Jewish girl from Poland named Raisa, in the opening chapter of the book when she is sick with fever. Her story continues as she immigrates to America, to find her older sister Henda, who preceded her in the journey. I was intrigued by the overwhelming scenario of traveling by boat as a second class passenger, and arriving young and alone in a new country where the native language is not your own. Friesner describes the tenement housing where most immigrants lived, and the struggle to find employment. Also, the deplorable conditions under which most of these young, underpaid newcomers were forced to work and live. I love New York City, and am fascinated by the history there; the millions of stories of individuals that remain untold. There is a tenement museum I would love to tour on a future trip to the big apple. One hundred years later, the stories of those whose lives were touched by the fire are still relevant, and in the words of the publisher, the hope that can come from [tragedy and] despair still resonates. I might find myself reading this again.