Friday, 5 June 2015

"Mercy Train"

   "Mercy Train" was originally written under the title "Mothers and Daughters".  It is another book that sheds light on the orphan trains.
  There are three generations of women, three storylines.  I was most interested in the story of the grandmother because she experienced the orphan train.
   The distribution of the orphans shocked me.  At one stop, the orphans were taken to the opera house:  "When the curtains swept apart, all Violet could see were eyes shining back at her, reflecting the electric lights of the windowless opera house.  The floor had been cleared of chairs, and curious sightseers and potential applicants milled about, gawking at the children, waving, smiling.  Some of the little ones waved back.  Violet didn't know what to do with her hands or where to look, if she should seek out a friendly face or if she should wait to be noticed."
  Violet was not chosen at that stop and, at the next stop, she got into trouble.  The children stood in the centre of the room, while viewers circled around them.  Violet was approached by a man who asked her to open her mouth.  He said that he wanted to make sure that she wasn't 'sickly', because he had a farm to run.  She ignored him and, when he put his finger in her mouth, she clamped down on it with her teeth.  She didn't get picked up at that stop either.

   There was also some description of the children living on the streets of New York and a mention of the poor house, or almshouse, where parents were put, but their children could not go with them.  So not all children living on the streets were 'orphans'.
 These stories are fiction but certainly there are many heart-breaking true stories.

  The title "Mothers and Daughters" does seem suitable for the book because there are some interesting thoughts on motherhood:
"Motherhood was its own universe with its own nonlinear time line, its own indefinable pain and reward."
"She wondered if on some level all mothers were ciphers to their children.  She wondered if having children was a way to try and understand one's own mother, to bridge the unknowability."
  My favourite quote was from Samantha, the granddaughter in this story, when she gave birth to her first child: "Samantha felt in her euphoria, that she had stepped into the continuous stream of history and humanity from which she hadn't even known she'd been excluded".

  Although I enjoyed some of the language in this book and was, once again, fascinated by the orphan train story, I wasn't thrilled with the book as a whole.  The chapters alternated the three stories and the title of each chapter told who you were reading about.  However, within each chapter, the author moved around in time from one paragraph to another.  It was difficult to put together each story because it was told in bits and pieces.

I think I am finished with orphan stories for now.  On to something different...

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