Saturday, July 16, 2011
In Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan, we are introduced to Ellie Hogan, a young woman raised in rural Ireland, who leaves her homeland and husband to emigrate to the United States where she hopes to earn money to pay for an operation needed by her husband. Headstrong, plucky Ellie faces many challenges when she arrives in NY but soon finds herself settling into her new life. But she also misses her husband, John, and has to decide how she can have all her new life promises and the man she has loved since she was a young girl.
As neighbors, Ellie and John Hogan are playmates- they run through the fields and climb trees in their rural Ireland until eventually their friendship grows into something more serious. Against Ellie's parents' wishes, they elope when Ellie is just eighteen. When John is injured while fighting in Ireland's civil war, Ellie takes matters into her own hands and decided to move to the US for a year to make money to pay for John's operation. Once there, she overcomes her initial challenges fitting into a new world and begins to flourish. Suddenly, she is pulled between two worlds - one in which she is self-sufficient and allowed some luxuries in life and one in which living is difficult without any modern conveniences but where she is with the man she loves.
I enjoy books with a theme of immigration and on that front this novel obviously delivers (the title really gives that away!) but there is much more to the book than an immigrant's story. In fact, the novel is really about the immigrant herself - it is Ellie's story. We see her as a headstrong young girl who chafes against her humorless, conservative parents and then as a young wife to a man committed to fighting for his country's freedom. When she heads to NY, her headstrong ways hold her in good stead as she plucks up the courage to challenge the head of servants at the home in which she works as maid. Unlike many immigrants, she is not easily taken advantage of and she is able to assert herself and get what she deserves. We really only see the softer side of Ellie when she writes to and thinks of John - she is torn between her love for him and the independent life she has made for herself in NY. Although set in the early 1900's, Ellie faces a dilemma faced by many modern women - she tries to find the balance between the independence wrought by hard work and self sufficiency with the comfort of a domestic life with the man she loves.
This novel was so enjoyable to read - it is very rich in detail so that we truly get a peek into Ellie's world. In addition to Ellie and John's stories, there are so many characters that surround them from John's parents, Paud and Maidy to Ellie's friends in NY, Sheila and Emilie. A little bit is told of each of their stories so that you become immersed in Ellie's life. In addition, the rugged beauty of rural Ireland is well sketched as is the glamour of NY at the turn of the century. If you enjoy historical fiction or stories about strong women, this book is for you! The best news is that there is more Ellie to come - this book is the first in a trilogy.
Kate Kerrigan was born and raised in London by Irish parents. After living and working in England as a magazine journalist, Kate returned to Ireland and ultimately settled in the West of Ireland (up Mayo!) near her mother's hometown. Kate will be guest posting on my blog on Monday and will talk about her own experience of being first generation and the child of immigrants. Please come back then!