gmhTODAY 11 gmhToday Nov Dec 2016 - Page 95

THE BOOK The Orphan Train BOOK CLUB BEAT with Sherry Hemingway Author Christina Baker Kline A t the age of 91, wealthy widow Vivian Daley needs help clean- ing out the attic of her Victorian home in coastal Maine. Her help comes in the form of a Goth-dressed, pierced and tattooed, 17-year-old Molly, whose misdeeds have resulted in court-ordered community service. Their attic proj- ect is one that neither approaches with enthusiasm, until they open an old trunk and memories come spilling out. The trunk’s contents tell a fictional- ized account of the real-life shipment of 200,000 homeless or orphaned children on trains from the East Coast to the Midwest from 1854 to 1929. Millions of immigrants were cramming into Eastern cities seeking a new life, and finding no work or decent housing. If parents perished in this fragile existence, their orphaned children were separated and, like the story of Vivian Daley, loaded onto trains headed to the country’s midlands. The Children’s Aid Society believed they were giving these orphans a better chance than they would have in the cities. At each train stop, children were lined up for inspection by the locals. Babies and strong older boys were the first to be chosen. The youngest were most likely to be adopted into families. Older children typically became forced labor. If a child was not chosen at one stop, he or she was loaded back on the train for the next stop, or the next, until all the orphans were gone. The fate of each orphan was unpredictable in its kindness or cruelty. As Vivian and Molly sift through the attic trunk, Vivian allows herself to finally talk about her early childhood in Ireland, the tragic loss of her entire family in New York, the journey on the orphan train, her “adoption” into a Minnesota sweat shop, and the aftermath of a precarious life. The two clean out the attic, dealing with their similar experiences of loss and abandonment. The orphan train system was a little- known piece of American history, until this book hit the bestseller lists and became a staple of book clubs across the country. For 75 years, East Coast cities dealt with their orphan numbers by putting the children on trains. The purpose was to find adoptive parents, but too often, the system provided indentured servants and laborers for the Midwestern farmlands. Like Vivian, these children suffered separation from siblings, loss of cultural identity, alienation and abuse. It was a stopgap before this country was willing and able to deal with the failings of its social system. Molly’s life makes the point that the system still has flaws. Christina Baker Kline’s work puts forth a well-written premise of how even the most tragic of lives can be healed with love, kindness and hope. The book is at once fascinating and jaw-dropping. Novel Evening Book Club Toasts to Launch FIRST YEAR READS All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty Catfish and Mandala by Andrew X. Pham East of Eden by John Steinbeck Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline Spider Woman’ ]Y\H[H[\X[HX\X[H[HZ\HY[[HHܚ\[[ZH\[YHX܈H]Y[\\’]8&\Y[\ݙ\HYX\[H[ܙ[[Xݙ[][[ۙYۂXY[Y[\\ˈY[X\\H ۝  H\]\X[KH\[[]\XۙH[ܙXH[[H\[KQY[X[K]HX[ ]][\[\H[Z[^KZ\[\\H\KSH8(SԑSS8(SPTSՑSPTPSPT MTHSRSVB[\[Y\Y]]H˜[\Y[\Bݙ\ˈ]YܙY\B[]H[]\]H[\\[]\]K\Y[ۙ\Y\\[\[\H[XXœ[][ۜˈ\ؘY\˜\H][[ \JH[[B[Y\[Y\[[X˂Z^KBM