When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt is a novel that just grabs you by your heart and soul as you read it. II will say right off before I go any further that I absolutely loved this novel! This is the author’s debut novel and I can’t say enough about her beautiful writing and story telling ability. When We Were Strangers is a novel that is going to remain in my thoughts and heart for a long time to come – it is the incredibly moving, heartwrenching and yet hopeful story of one very determined young woman to survive and succeed in a time when many women couldn’t.
It is the 1800’s and Irma Vitale is living in the small village of Opi, located near Naples. Her family farms sheep and know all about what being poor and hungry really is. Irma is a very plain girl – 16 years old at the opening of the novel. Her mother is dying and the one thing she leaves her daughter with is telling her that to leave their village dooms her to die among strangers. However as the next few years pass Irma finds it increasingly impossible to stay and live with her father even though the idea of leaving her Aunt Zia terrifies her. Her brother Carlo left for America shortly after their mother passed but Irma didn’t go then – now she feels she has no choice.
Irma’s only hope in her own village would have been to marry but aside from the fact that there aren’t any eligible men, Irma is also very plain. This is particularly important because to be plain didn’t open a lot of avenues to women back then. So Irma books passage on the ship Servia with only a small dowry but much talent in the area of sewing and this is what she intends to succeed at in America.
Although Irma is plain, she has a special quality that seems to draw people because she does seem to meet friends wherever she goes. On the ship she makes acquaintance with some interesting people and even meets a man who works on the ship that might see beyond her plainness. Upon reaching America, she is befriended by Lulu – a cook in the workhouse and later by Molly – a maid. Irma and Molly’s friendship is one that stands the test of time and I could see them friends way past the ending of the book.
One of the most important relationships is the one she makes with the healer Sofia. I won’t say how or why they met but meeting Sofia shapes the rest of Irma’s life and sends her on a path that she would never have thought to take. This one meeting and this one woman who so strongly believed in Irma changes all avenues of her life. I loved the relationship between these two; it was part mother, part teacher, part friend. It was amazing.
I loved the character of Irma. Upon coming to America, she became a victim in a couple of instances, but instead of buckling and giving up, she kept going. I think this novel realistically shows how tough it is for women, really anyone, who immigrated to America back in the 1800’s. Many couldn’t speak any English and they were looked down upon and not treated very well much of the time. I think it shows so much courage for all those people who immigrated in search of a better life – they all amaze me.
Again, I have to say what a beautiful novel When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt is. Her descriptions of the culture, food and areas that Irma lives in are all so vivid that I felt I was right there with Irma every step of the way. I’ll tell you – I had a galley copy of this novel and every second page was quite faded out so it was hard to read but the thing was after even the first 20 pages I couldn’t put it down. That is the mark of a really good author – when they can capture your interest so quickly and not let it go no matter what. This will be one of the books that makes my favorites of 2011!
I read When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt for her book tour with TLC Book Tours. You can check out other tour stops for this wonderful book here. You can also visit Pamela’s website to learn more about her and her book and check out her blog as well. When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt released January 25, 2011 and you can buy your own copy here in the US and here in Canada.
© 2010, Darlene of Peeking Between the Pages. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Peeking Between the Pages or Darlene’s Feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.
My copy of When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt was provided for review by TLC Book Tours and the publisher.
Wall-to-wall books says
Oooooo, love the cover on this book!!!!
Nice review, Dar!
Sandy Nawrot says
I really enjoy immigrant stories. It had to have been so scarey (especially for a woman) to come to a country where they don't speak the language and have no way of knowing how they will provide for themselves. I'm so glad this one was a keeper!
(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea says
This sounds wonderful; thanks for blogging about it Dar.
I love the sound of this. I do love the American journey ones. Sofia sounds very interesting too.
Thoughts of Joy says
Coming-of-age, immigration story sounds great! I'm adding it to my TBR list. Thanks. 🙂
This does sound like an incredible book, Dar, and like one that I would really like to read. I am so glad to hear that it was such an amazing read for you and I am going to be adding it to my list. Your review was wonderful as well!
Glad you found a book you couldn't put down!
I like the sounds of this one from your review. I'll have to check it out.
This one sounds wonderful. And if you can already that it will be one of your favs this year then it must be good
I'm a sucker for a good immigrant story and this one sounds fabulous! I'm adding it to my wishlist.
Jess - A Book Hoarder says
Love the cover, love the review…have to read this. Thanks!
Great review as usual, I do love the cover.
I'm glad you enjoyed this Dar! This sounds like one I would like also and this is the first I have heard of this one.
Mary Beth says
Wow, Dar, your review is wonderful. I'm adding this title to my tbr list. Thanks for letting us know about it!
Mary (Bookfan) says
LOL, the comment above is from me, Dar. I was in the wrong email acct and it took that info 😉
This cover is so beatiful–glad to hear the book draws you in every bit as much as the cover does!
Alice Teh says
I concur with Sandy. It's a beautiful cover too!
This is my next book that I will be starting today!! I hope my galley doesn't have faded pages…I'll have to wear my glasses!! LOL!! Can not wait to read it, especially after your wonderful review!
Jean Lewis says
I would love to read this. You have made it sound amazing. It is on the Discover New Writer's Bay at work. I follow your blog. Please give me two chances at winning. Thanx.
Jenny Girl says
I could not agree with you more! I totally loved this book and Irma. What a sweet story of hope and adventure.
Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours says
It sounds like the author really did a great job creating these characters and telling their story – I'm so glad you enjoyed it so much! Having my own ancestors come from Italy, this book appeals to me as well. I'll definitely be adding it to my wish list.
Thanks for being a part of the tour!
It sounds wonderful, great review!
I'm so glad to hear that you loved this book. It's high on my wishlist!
This book sounds wonderful, Dar. I am intrigued by Irma and her story. Ms. Schoenewaldt's prose sounds beautiful, as if she paints apicture with her words and descriptions.
Thank you for a great review. This book is going on my tbr list!
Tribute Books Mama says
Will add to my list& thanks! for the great review.