When We Were Strangers
Harper, Jan 22 2011, $14.99
Growing up in the small village of Opi in Abruzza on the spine of Italy, Irma Vitale’s mamma always warned her never to leave. When Irma was sixteen, her mamma on her deathbed reminded her daughter that "If you leave Opi, you'll die with strangers." For the next few years after her mamma’s death, Irma heeded her dying advice, but after Carlo leaves for a place called Cleveland, her father turns increasingly to drink. Aunt Zia Carmello worried about her single niece with no reasonable male prospect to protect her from her father, gives Irma money to flee to family in America.
Twenty year old Irma hopes her sewing skills provide her employment as she sails on the Servia across the Atlantic as a young single unprotected female. Though scarred physically and emotionally from the crossing, she makes it to Cleveland where she obtains work in a horrific sweatshop. From the misery of Ohio she goes on to Chicago only to have the Great Fire destroy her dressmaking lifestyle and finally renews it in San Francisco with a precise needle that makes her much more. Her journey across the ocean and the United States enable her to meet fellow other immigrants seeking the American dream too
This is a well written timely reminder of the great wave of late nineteenth century immigrants coming to America to act on a dream like business mind ambitious Molly the Irish maid. The strong cast anchored by Irma’s odyssey provides a sense of the diversity that made America strong. Readers will enjoy this deep historical as Pamela Schoenewaldt opens the window to a world When We Were Strangers coming together though from diverse Old Countries to start anew.