Book: Maura’s Dream, by Joel Gross
Genre: Historical Fiction
Where I got it: Free Kindle download (the book was first published in 1982, but released on Kindle in 2012, with a freebie promotion in 2013)
Briefly, it’s about a young Irish emigrant taking her first steps at a new life in New York in the last years of the nineteenth century. Maura exchanges the completely unrealistic American Dream she harboured when she was still in Kerry for a much more attainable one. In a short but drama-filled period she is married, widowed, survives the killer steerage class of the emigrant ship, is lured into a brothel where she is gang-raped and prostituted, escapes, meets and rejects a wealthy but self-centred Prince Charming, works in a slave-labour sewing factory where she organises a strike (successful, of course), goes to night school and gets a better job, teaches herself to type, and ends up facing a better, brighter, attainable future.
What I liked: Interesting plot line, deals with important topics such as the luring of innocent young girls into prostitution (I remember hearing of some nuns in London who, when the mail train from Ireland arrived at Euston station, would be on the platform to seek out any girl who had nowhere to go and bring them to their hostel for the night, before anyone else could pick them up – I’m sure this is a very real danger today too, all over the world); men’s attitudes to prostitutes; labour and unions; back-street abortions; the necessity of being true to oneself and not selling out to another’s vision for short-term benefits.
What I didn’t like so much: In places it is much too long, and could have benefitted from heavy editing. Some of the details of Ireland should have been checked (“Brendt” is not a name that I’ve ever come across, and “Maura” is much more likely to have been “Máire” in that context; Wexford is east of Kerry, not west); the role of religion and belief is treated very superficially without real understanding. There’s a tendency to project 20th century concerns back onto an earlier age.
Anything else: I really laughed at the Goodreads comment where someone called “Maura” was bought this book by her aunt, who seems not to have looked beyond the title when she gave it to her niece, then in 3rd grade! The book was confiscated as unsuitable by her parents, but Maura found it and read it surreptitiously anyway!