Simon & Schuster Canada
A story of exploitation, broken trust, secrets and changes to come
A very unusual book, told from two main sources. Yes, there is a museum and it is fascinating, but there are dark secrets hidden here. The museum is owned by a refugee who lives alone on Coney Island with his young daughter, who tells one part of the story, and a housekeeper. Both are called monsters, though they are the most caring in the story. The girl is very young at the beginning of her story, and one hundred percent under the control of her father, though she is not aware of it. Nor is she aware of what his plan for her future is.
The second storyteller is an Orthodox Jew, a refugee from the Ukraine who lives with his father and both work in the textile mills in Boston. A young boy on the verge of rebellion at the beginning. He renounces his faith when he believes his father tried to commit suicide.
It is a time in New York when men were in charge and women were treated as possessions, a time when class distinction was not only strongly defined but often corrupt and hidden crime was rampant, a time when 'hired' help was more often than not mistreated. Also a time of workhouses where children and women were forced to work for a pittance and often accidents occurred. Such is the case when a fire breaks out while the workers are locked within. You thought this happened only in other countries? Murders and assaults occur while eyes remain closed. This is New York in the 1800s and early 1900s. Manhattan was not much more than a swamp at certain times of the year. Coney Island was just becoming the famous park and beach it would one day be. For the boy who renounced his faith he has found beauty in nature. For the girl living at the museum, she has found horror. Will the two ever be able to find each other in time?
Through all the brutality of the times, this story is beautiful in many ways. It flows between two sides, much like the Hudson River, featured so often in the story and integral to it in many ways. It is a story of betrayal, but also a love story of two storytellers. There is connection between many of the characters, and the spark of life, love and humanity exists and blooms against all odds. Alice Hoffman has not only captured the essence of early New York, she has integrated two historical events seamlessly, and recreated the crises so vividly you can almost feel the heat. Though the characters are fictional, the events are real. This is a wonderful story of compassion within a nightmare world. This story I will carry with me for a long time.