It is 1909 and Ruth, her sister Ester and her mother arrive in New York City. Harsh treatment of the Jewish people had made life in Russia unbearable for the Feldmans. Four years earlier, her father headed to the United States with the plan that the rest of the family would join him when he had the money to pay for their passage. Also with her father was Abraham, the man Ruth was expected to marry and Abraham’s father. Once the Feldmans are reunited, they all settle into a tenement apartment on the Lower East Side. Ruth and Abraham hope to marry soon and young Ester enters school. Abraham helps Ruth get a job at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory where he is employed. While Abraham is happy to keep his head down and work for his wages, Ruth is abhorred by the poor treatment of the workers and gets involved with those working to organize change. The families struggle with trying to retain their culture and heritage while learning the language and lifestyle of Americans.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that occurred on March 25, 1911 remains one of the deadliest disasters in U.S. history, with 146 preventable deaths. So before reading even one page, it is apparent this is not going to be a happy story. But author Joyana Peters, in an impressive debut novel, reminds us of this tragedy by creating a fictitious family impacted by the fire. A family we get to know and care about. The Feldmans represent the many immigrants who came to the U.S. seeking a better life which included religious freedom. Peters did an excellent job researching the period and the actual Triangle Factory with its cramped work spaces. The streets of their neighborhood come alive with crowds, pushcarts and the sounds of many languages.
If you’re walking through New York’s Greenwich Village and find yourself at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street, look for NYU’s Brown Building (formerly the Asch Building) and remember the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. This book is a moving homage to its victims.
While The Girl in the Triangle is filled with sadness, there is also joy and hopefulness.
Rated 4.25 out of 5 stars.
Publication Date: July 1, 2021.
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