This novel centers around two tragic New York City disasters: the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911, and September 11, 2001. Up until September 11, the Triangle fire was the worst workplace disaster in New York City history. Over 140 workers were killed (mostly women) in a fire that swept through the garment factory's 8th floor. Many of them leapt to their deaths when they couldn't escape the flames.
So…this novel deals with two women who were each touched by these tragedies: Clara and Taryn. Clara worked at the Triangle factory as a nurse and escaped the fire, only to witness the horror of watching a man she loved jump to his death. She's decided she can't stay in New York City, so she's taken a job as a nurse on Ellis Island, caring for sick immigrants who aren't allowed into New York City until they are well enough to leave quarantine. She has been on the island for months and won't leave.
Taryn, in 2011, is a widow and mother who works in a fabric store that customizes in working with old fabrics. She lost her husband on September 11. Now the 10th anniversary is coming up, and a long lost photo of Taryn and a man standing outside, watching in horror as the first tower comes down is republished in the paper. Taryn was wearing a peculiar scarf that day; it had marigolds on it. That scarf is first found in Clara's story; she befriends Andrew, an immigrant who's been forced into quarantine because he's been exposed to scarlet fever on his ship. This scarlet fever also killed his new wife, and the scarf was hers. Andrew keeps it with him and Clara soon finds in Andrew a kindred spirit: both are mourning love lost, and what could have been.
There's lots more to this story, but if I tell anymore I'll give too much away. Suffice it to say it's a novel about grieving, and making choices that will either expose a painful truth or keep it quiet for the sake of love. It's about allowing yourself to grieve, but moving forward and facing the survivor's guilt that sometimes happens when a loved one dies and you survive.
You'll find Clara's story much more compelling than Taryn's, and it takes up most of the novel. These two women are bound by many things, even though their stories are 100 years apart. It's a novel that at first is good, but gets better. It's a book that I kept thinking about long after turning the last page.
Rating: 7/10 for feeding my never-ending obsession with the Triangle Fire, and bringing two stories together at the end in a satisfying conclusion. You may find Clara a bit annoying after awhile, but hang in there--you'll like her!
Available in paperback and e-book.