Reviewer: Amy Lignor
Title: When We Were Strangers
Author: Pamela Schoenewaldt
Release Date: January 2011
Genre/Sub-genre: Historical Fiction
Year/Setting: 19th Century America
Overall Rating: 4.0
Sexual Content Rating: None/Subtle
Language (Profanity/Slang) Content Rating: None/Mild
Violent Content Rating: None/Negligible
Pamela's Website/Blog: www.pamelaschoenewaldt.com
I don't believe there is a reader out there who won't agree that this is one of the most promising debuts that has ever been written. In fact, this author quite obviously was born to be an author!
Irma Vitale lives in an Italian mountain village with what is left of her family. They are very poor and Irma has become mostly a burden on her parents, seeing as that the chances of her marrying are extremely slim. When her mother fades away and leaves the earth, her last words to Irma are, "Don't die with strangers." A poignant thought for a young woman who is about to embark on a trip to America in order to hopefully discover a better life. Joining the slew of immigrants crossing the deadly Atlantic and facing illness of every kind, Irma steps off onto American soil and finds herself in a fantastically frightening and magical New World.
Living as a single woman on the busy streets of America, Irma must face a great deal of strangeness and oddity; she is certainly not used to this existence coming from a tiny village and now walking the streets that are supposedly "paved with gold." She finds work as a dressmaker to gentlewomen of the 1880's, but the amazingly long hours, slave treatment, and hardly any wages to speak of, send Irma on a quest to find her own niche in society which leads her to a dress shop in Chicago. Here is where Irma truly finds herself as an American and she gets a supreme "boost" in life by working under the tutelage of an Alastian dressmaker. Suddenly Irma is surrounded by amazing dress patterns and the finest material she can imagine, and her creativity, stamina, intelligence and imagination begin to shine.
As readers follow Irma through a sudden tragedy that wipes the slate clean of all she's accomplished, we watch a woman grow up and strive with all her might to go on. Through the West she travels while meeting friends and establishing ties that make a true, loving family.
Not only are the locations told with a very detailed eye, but the business of dressmaking as well as the hardships that the immigrants went through when reaching America's shores is so unbelievably realistic that it feels as if the author, herself, was the one to arrive in 1880. A fantastic debut that will have readers waiting for the next masterpiece Ms. Schoenewaldt releases. Bravo!
Until next time,
Question or comment regarding the review or the book? Click here and let Amy know.