Saturday, December 20, 2008

Until We Reach Home by Lynn Austin

Until We Reach Home is the story of three young women who emigrate from Sweden to America in 1897. Teenage sisters, Elin, Kirsten and Sofia are orphans. Following their mother's illness and death, their grieving father has commited suicide. Relatives take over the farm, but their older brother leaves home without letting them know where he is going. Kirsten is in love with a local boy, but he says he can never marry her because of her father's sin. Elin carries a terrible secret and to protect her sisters, she plans for all of them to travel to America to stay with relatives who have provided their passage. Young Sofia would rather stay in Sweden.

The journey to America is long and difficult and at Ellis Island, the girls are detained due to illness. When they finally reach Chicago, they discover their aunt and uncle do not have space for them and their passage was actually paid by a group of young Swedish men in Wisconsin who are looking for wives. None of the girls are interested in marrying strangers and decide to find work in Chicago. They become live-in maidservants for a wealthy (and grumpy) woman. Elin must deal with her secret, Kirsten discovers she is pregnant, and shy quiet Sofia is waiting for a man she fell in love with while at Ellis Island to find her. Life in America is not as easy as they expected, and each of the girls must find their own way to a new home and happiness.

I really enjoyed this book. I have immigrant ancestors who made this same journey from small European villages to Chicago, and I honestly never imagined it could have been so long and difficult. Family stories tend to focus on how proud they were to be Americans rather than how hard they worked to learn the language and make ends meet. Fans of historical fiction will enjoy this book.

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