Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner

In 1911, Clara Wood watched as the man she was falling in love with jumped to his death as the flames from the Triangle Shirwaist Factory roared around him.  Not being able to face returning to Manhattan to a life she was just starting, she finds a semblance of peace in a nursing job on Ellis island.  Here she takes care of the hundreds of immigrants who are kept on the island hospital for health reasons. But when an young immigrant comes in wearing a beautiful woman's scarf with marigolds all over it and in grief for the young bride who succumbed to scarlet fever, Clara feels drawn to help the young man and the colors in the scarf.  But in the helping Clara is caught up in a dilemma of whether to tell the truth or not and in turn must confront the feelings of guilt that is itself keeping her prisoner on the island.

Taryn Michaels has built a life for her and her daughter on Manhattan's Upper West Side.  She's working a job she loves researching and finding antique fabrics for her customers and has convinced herself she is finally happy.  But September 2011 is coming up, the tenth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Centers, and she is once again facing that day as a national magazine publishes a formerly unknown picture of her watching in terror and clutching a beautiful scarf with marigolds as the tower collapses and the debris falls around her.  Now she must answer her daughter's questions about why she has never said that she was there when the towers fell and the guilt that she has tried to bury comes raging full force as she remembers her husband's death in the towers.

Susan Meissner has an incredible way of taking two individuals stories years apart and connecting them through a physical object, in this case the scarf and it's journey from one to the other.  Living decades apart both women witnessed a horrible life altering tragedy (the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire is a true event).   Both of these women's stories were paralleled in that they were both prisoners in a sense to the guilt they felt in what had happened to their loved one, and that both were choosing to live life in an "in between place" of grief and guilt, holding back from really living and loving.  Their stories of coping and what led to both tragedies really got me in my heart.   I couldn't put the book down.  It is beautifully written and causes the reader to think on whether they believe that things happen for a reason.  It asks us to wonder if a person can actually fall in love with someone they don't really know, asks us to define what love would be.  As an observer one would scoff at Clara's declarations of "loving" someone she didn't even really know, but the feelings she felt for Edward were hers and I as the reader could choose to call it unbelievable or I could choose to believe that this young, innocent girl actually did have deep feelings for the Edward she knew, even though the knowing was more of a budding aquaintanceship (is that a word?).    The story asks us if we believe in destiny and that God has a plan for each of our lives.  It causes us to think of the choices we make and how that forms where our life will take us.  Once again I loved the immigrant experience parts of the story and learning about the hospital on Ellis island.

There was one thing that prevents me from giving this a 10/10, however, but it is minor.  For me there was a bit of confusion at the end on to whom the scarf was passed along to (who is Elinor??) and had me scratching my head and trying to turn back to former pages to see what I had missed.  I loved this quote from the end of the story and it sort of summarizes the story for me:

"The scarf was given first to a woman named Lily by a mother who loved her.  Life sent Lily to a valley of decision, just as it sends all of us there from time to time.  She made difficult choices based on despair.  If I have learned anything this past year, is that despair is love's fiercest enemy.

Do not chose to abandon love because you are afraid that it will crush you.  Love is the only true constant in a fragile world."
Fall of Marigolds pg. 363

Though in the Christian fiction genre, I think it is a story that anyone would enjoy no matter where they are in faith.  I gave this lovely story a 9.5 out 10

Reading Challenge Goals Met:  A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit (New York city), A book by a female author, A book from an author I love,

Linked to Semicolon Saturday Review of  Books


Faith said...

sounds good!!

Karen said...

You had me at the story of the nurse on Ellis Island. I like books that carry a story between time periods.

I always enjoy your reviews, Susanne.

Barbara H. said...

I don't think I have ever read this author. Sounds intriguing!