Sunday, January 16, 2011

Review-When We Were Strangers, by Pamela Schoenewaldt

Pamela Schoenewaldt
Harper Collins
$14.99, 336 pages

Book Description from Publisher

"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  -Harper Collins

My Review

When We Were Strangers will be one of this years cherished memorable novels. Schoenewaldt is a dramatically exciting storyteller who has a velcro like ability to hold on to an audience throughout. Her characters are destined to attain literary immortality, they breathe beyond the final chapter. Two women stand out as formidable in their own way: Irma both victim and survivor and Sofia, savior and mentor. Whether random, kismet or some divine encounter, when Irma and Sofia meet their relationship is powerful and inspiring.

The story reflects the immigrant experience unique to America and the multicultural composite of it’s citizens. Once valued and celebrated, this diversity was the foundation of this country, adopting an appropriate motto, e pluribus unum (out of many one). Today, rather than shrinking, the gap of intolerance of others difference has become extreme, a disturbing trend. Reading this novel one might question how civil we are today, two centuries later?  Further, when will tolerance emerge from this apex of intolerance and the prodigious prejudice still with us today?

Pamela Schoenewaldt, a propitious and pensive writer who will no doubt leave readers anticipating her next book. Until then, don’t miss her debut.

Disclosure: The copy of this book was given to me by Library Thing as an ARC to review for the Early Reviewer program.  This review is submitted free of bias and represents my honest opinion.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2011].


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This sounds like a great immigrant story; thanks for bringing it to my attention.

ImageNations said...

Interesting. An immigrant's story is bound to be adventurous and interesting. Hope this is and more

Booksnyc said...

Thanks for this review and for the interview with the author. I am hosting the Immigrant Stories Challenge this year and this book will be perfect for it!