Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Woman in the Photo

Title:  The Woman in the Photo
Author:  Mary Hogan
Publication Information:  William Morrow Paperbacks. 2016. 432 pages.
ISBN:  006238693X / 978-0062386939

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Elizabeth, please."

Favorite Quote:  "Birth is not fate. You must create a destiny that is yours. Uniquely yours."

This is a book by the numbers. The story is about two women, two places, and two time periods. The history is about one town, one dam, one private club, one day, one storm, and 2,209 dead.

The Great Flood of 1889 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania is still one of the worst losses of civilian life ever in the United States. The history goes back to the canal system for transportation and to the railroad taking over. The original South Fork Dam was built for the canal system. When the railroad took over, the property was sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad, who in turn sold it to private interests. Very rich private interests. The investors converted the dam reservoir into a lake for The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, a private summer club open to membership only. As the years passed, the integrity of the dam was further compromised to suit the needs of the club. All it took was one major storm. The dam collapsed, sending a flood downstream that could not be stopped. The cottages of the club remained untouched, but the towns downstream and the lives of the residents were destroyed.

Another interesting bit of history wrapped in this is book is the character of Clara Barton - the Clara Barton. The American Red Cross led by Clara Barton came to help the victims of the Johnstown flood. It was the first time that the American Red Cross played a major humanitarian role in a civilian crisis, and it set the tone for the future work of the American Red Cross.

Elizabeth Haberlin is the woman in the photo. The photo is discovered by Lee Parker, an eighteen year old growing up in California. Lee discovers the photo when, at age eighteen, she becomes entitled to certain of her adoption records. This sets her off on a journey of discovery.

The book continues back and forth between Elizabeth's story and Lee's story. Elizabeth is a young woman not content to live by the standards her 1880s society demands of her. Her story is wrapped up in the history encompassed in this book. Lee's story is the pull between her love for her adoptive mother and her need to learn about her birth mother. The connection between the two stories is one of lineage, but really more about heritage and character. Both are the stories of strong, independent women who create their own path through life; therein lies the commonality between two women so separated by time. Both are tied together a little bit too quickly and neatly towards the end, but other than that, both keep me reading.

The main fictional characters have cares and concerns that go beyond the history, making the story engaging. The historical characters and events are easily verified, and yet again, a fictional story has introduced me to history I knew little about. I do also appreciate the historical photographs sprinkled throughout the book; I find myself reading and looking for more facts after reading the book. Historical fiction is a balance between fictional story and actual history. This book does a great job at maintaining that balance.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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