When your dreams finally seem to be coming true, it’s hard to trust them.
It’s been four years since seventeen-year-old Ruth set eyes on her fiance. After surviving near-starvation, revolution and a long trip across the stormy ocean, she can’t help but wonder: Will Abraham still love her? Or has America changed him?
Nowhere’s as full of change as 1909 New York. From moving pictures to daring clothes to the ultra-modern Triangle Shirtwaist Factory where she gets a job, everything exhilarates Ruth. When the New World even seems to rejuvenate her bond with Abraham, she is filled with hope for their prospects and the future of their war-torn families.
But when she makes friends and joins the labor movement—fighting for rights of the mostly female workers against the powerful factory owners—something happens she never expected. She realizes she might be the one America is changing. And she just might be leaving Abraham behind.
The Girl in the Triangle is an immigration story that will appeal to fans of Brooklyn by Colm Toibin and The Queen of the Big Time by Adriana Trigiani. It questions what it means to be an American, and what is the true meaning of strength.
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He stood outside the dressing room with his arms crossed. "I was starting to fear I'd need to send in a search party."
"I'm sorry," Ruth said. "I met the sister of one of your friends."
"Chayele," Abraham chuckled. "That explains it. That girl could talk the hind legs off a donkey."
He steered her to the line for the stairs and gestured for her to open her bag to be examined. "They fear people stealing scraps for sewing at home."
Ruth held her bag open wide as the guard poked through. Eventually he nodded, and they exited through the door to the stairs.
"Chayele seemed really nice. She introduced me to her friends as well. She said you were good friends with her brother?"
"Yankel," Abraham nodded. "He's good folk. He took me under his wing when I got here. Makes me get out and have some fun from time to time."
Ruth pondered that for a moment and considered Chayele's painted face. "She's not a—what do you call it? Floopsy, is she?"
Abraham laughed. "No, Chayele’s not a floozy, though she might be the center of any party. She's just been here awhile and has embraced America."
"America encourages painted faces?"
Abraham tilted his head and thought before answering. "America encourages fun, at least in your free time. Not like in Russia where you just go to work and come home."
"How do you spend your free time?"
Abraham turned to face her with a twinkle in his eye. "All kinds of ways. Seeing performers singing in shows, going to the circus, heading out to Luna Park."
"What's Luna Park?"
"An amusement park in West Brighton Beach. You can ride a roller coaster and see recreations of villages from all over the world—it's amazing. I'll take you one weekend."
Ruth mulled over this new word, weekend. She had no clue what a roller coaster was, but it sounded exciting. Everything Abraham mentioned was foreign and strange. They'd sung as a family around the piano or even in the street with neighbors on holidays. But shows? Performers? These were novel ideas.
Abraham glanced over at her with a mischievous smile. "Still love running?"
"Race you home!" he shouted and took off ahead.
"You gonif! You still cheat!" she shouted and took off after him.
His laughter floated back to her as she ran. The cityscape flew by as she weaved in and out of people on the sidewalk, some shouting insults in response. They rolled right off Ruth. Her exhaustion evaporated, the caress of cool air on her face sweeping away her lethargy. She dug deep to run faster, her competitive instincts kicking in. She'd never felt so happy and free.
Growing up in New York, she always loved exploring the city, particularly the Lower East Side. This led to her discovery of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the stories it holds.
She currently lives in Northern Virginia where she takes in the sights of DC with her two kids and husband.
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My thoughts: being British I was only vaguely aware of the infamous Triangle factory fire, and this novel, based on historical facts, filled in the gaps. We have our own share of horrific factory tragedies here, and sadly it’s not all in the past.
Ruth and her family are Russian Jews, who moved to America to escape poverty and prejudice like so many did in the early 1900s. Torn between tradition and all that America has to offer, Ruth goes to work at the famous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on the production line. She wants to help pay for her fiance Abraham’s family to join them in New York.
Ruth is swept up in unionisation, the women’s suffrage movement and starts to become more American, dressing in the new fashions and styling her hair like a Gibson girl. Her younger sister Ester wants to keep their old traditions and preserve the Yiddish they speak at home.
The book was a fascinating look at the struggles immigrants still face, torn between tradition and the ways of their new home, and also the horrific treatment of workers in the factories that helped build America.
Reading this made me think of the scandals of last year, when, during a pandemic, garment workers here in the UK were still suffering in similar ways to those of Ruth and her friends. Inadequate ventilation, poor management, lack of PPE, abuse of power and other injustices. Things that should be confined to the past, long since stopped through the work of men and women like Ruth, pushing governments to introduce laws to protect workers. It’s a sad and strange fact that sometimes it feels like nothing has changed, Ruth would be outraged.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.