Friday, October 23, 2015

Beginning ~ with ghosts of the past

Orphan Train ~ by Christina Baker Kline, 2013, fiction (Minnesota and Maine), 10/10
I believe in ghosts.  They're the ones who haunt us, the ones who have left us behind.  Many times in my life I have felt them around me, observing, witnessing, when no one in the living world knew or cared what happened.

I am ninety-one years old, and almost everyone who was once in my life is now a ghost.
Those opening lines pulled me in, and the story kept me reading most of last night.  I finished the book this morning when I woke up, rating it a 10 of 10 because I couldn't put it down.
As a young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian Daily was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.  Returning east later in life, Vivian leads a quiet, peaceful existence on the coast of Maine, the memories of her upbringing rendered a hazy blur.  But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past.  Seventeen-year-old Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer is close to "aging out" of the foster care system.  A community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping Molly out of juvenile hall.  As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly learns that she and Vivian aren't as different as they appear.  Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life — answers that will ultimately free them both.
I was interested in Vivian's Claddagh cross, which is mentioned often throughout the story.  I looked it up, wondering why it is significant.  Vivian Daly's name changes over the course of the novel, from Niamh Power to Dorothy Nielsen to Vivian Daly.  Molly is a teenager helping the elderly woman sort through her boxes of memories, ostensibly to discard most of the stuff.  I consider this bit (from page 173) a turning point.
Molly has virtually given up on the idea of disposing of anything.  After all, what does it matter?  Why shouldn't Vivian's attic be filled with things that are meaningful to her?  The stark truth is that she will die sooner than later.  And then professionals will descend on the house, neatly and efficiently separating the valuable from the sentimental, lingering only over items of indeterminate origin or worth.  So yes — Molly has begun to view her work at Vivian's in a different light.  Maybe it doesn't matter how much gets done.  Maybe the value is in the process — in touching each item, in naming and identifying, in acknowledging the significance of a cardigan, a pair of children's boots.
Since Orphan Train is my book club's choice for November, I was pleased to discover a reader's guide.

Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays.  Click here for today's Mister Linky.


Elizabeth said...


I really liked this book.

Thanks for the reminder.

Silver's Reviews
My Book Beginnings

Maria said...

I have heard really good things about this book but haven't had a chance to pick it up - I'm going to have to get a copy for myself - this sounds too good to pass up. Here's my Book Beginnings & 56