Sally in the City of Dreams
Judi Curtin’s latest historical novel tells the story of two sisters emigrating from Ireland to America; it also reads as an introduction to the Irish Immigrant experience at the turn of the century. The novel indicates the year is ‘early 1900s’ rather than a specific year so the reader is immediately open to the generality of the story. What Curtin does so well is write about the living history of the moment, balancing historical detail with stories so the reader isn’t tied to dates and historical events, but open to a time period and cultural experience.
There is enough threat in the story make an exciting read, but Curtin allows enough distance from daily threat to make the book a safe read for young children. For example, while Sally and Bridget are poor, they arrive in America with clean, well-paying jobs with good employers and a safe place to stay. The reader feels the opportunity and hope if the immigrant experience through Sally who loves her job and can send money home to her family, while experiencing the danger and uncertainly and loneliness of many through Julia, a young girl befriended by the sisters.
Sally’s story could be the story of thousands looking for a future in a new country. While this is an historical novel, the reader feels the homesickness, the uncertainty, and the hope that is universal to the immigrant experience. It is a gentle novel that tells a simple story but hints at much more.