Thursday, December 15, 2022

The Light of Luna Park

Title:
  The Light of Luna Park
Author:  Addison Armstrong
Publication Information:  G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2021.336 pages.
ISBN:  0593328043 / 978-0593328040

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "No baby is happy about being pushed into this world."

Favorite Quote:  "I'm a nurse, Dr. Morrison. It's my job to see the nasty side of things. And then it's my job to make them better."

Luna Park is a seaside amusement park on Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. It opened in 1903 on the site of another park that operated from 1894 to 1902. In the 1940s, it was destroyed by fire and later demolished. A new park with the same name exists nearby both as a family destination and a historic marker.

In the United States, one in ten infants is born prematurely.

What, you might ask, does an amusement park have to do with preemie babies? Historically, it does.

In its heyday, the park featured rides and many sideshow "attractions" common to amusement destinations at the time. The "attractions" at one time included premature babies given a chance at life using incubators. Incubators for human use were invented in France by a physician named St├ęphane Tarnier after he saw them used at a zoo! Many medical professionals at the time did not invest or research the care of premature babies as the care was thought expensive and the chance of success very slim. Another French physician named Pierre Budin brought the incubators to the 1896 World's Fair.

Martin Couney saw the "display" of babies and made the leap to a sideshow attraction. Sad to turn a family's turmoil into a sideshow or ideological to demonstrate the success of something the medical profession did not deem feasible? Probably both. An ethical conundrum.

People, Couney felt, would pay to see these infants in incubators. At the same time, infants needs the care could be helped. He brought the incubators to Coney Island, hired nurses to care for the infants, and set up the show. The "attraction" provided care the hospitals would or could not. By the 1940s, hospital began to use incubators in care. Perhaps because of the this and perhaps because of the fire of Luna Park, this attraction closed never to reopen.

This is the fascinating history behind The Light of Luna Park. Althea Anderson is a nurse at Bellevue Hospital. She sees baby after baby die. The doctors refuse to consider the facility at Luna Park as a medical solution. One day, Althea takes matters into her own hands. A baby "dies" at Bellevue but ends up at Luna Park. Another mother loses a child, and Althea becomes a mother.

Years later, Stella Wright is at a crossroads in her life. The discovery of a letter leads her to this history and her own past.

This debut novel from Addison Armstrong pulls in history, family turmoil, and parenthood. It pulls in the emotional journey of discovering that everything we know of ourselves may not be true. It pulls in the ethical dilemmas of the preemies dying in the hospitals and of a nurse and the decision she makes to save a life. A compelling first book. I look forward to reading more from Addison Armstrong.


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