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The lives of two ordinary poeple in early twentieth century North America
This book follows the lives of two people of Irish descent. Paul arrives in Brooklyn in 1895 aged 19. He meets and is captivated by Maeve whose parents arrived two decades earlier but met tragic ends. She develops a fondness for the innocent Irishman but is forced to deceive him. On discovering the deception he leaves Brooklyn, eventually joining the gold rush to the Klondike and, later, Alaska. Throughout the years thoughts of Maeve are never far away.
She escapes the clutches of the man who has controlled her since her parents’ deaths and travels to Chicago where she gives up a child for adoption before becoming involved with the family of an artist. Before her parents died she had enjoyed painting and now, encouraged by the artist, studies and becomes a successful painter. The traumatic separation from her child influences her paintings and she harbours an unfulfilled need to find her daughter.
On a painting assignment in Dawson City she discovers that Paul was there years earlier and considers trying to find him. At the last minute she decides that revisiting the past would be unwise, bringing back unpleasant memories of the terrible thing that happened to her after Paul disappeared.
Years later she is commissioned to paint the portrait of a nurse newly returned from the battle fields of France and Germany. Simultaneously Paul is persuaded by a friend that he has misunderstood Maeve’s actions and should seek her out in Chicago. The book reaches its climax as all three meet against the backdrop of the Red Riots of July/August 1919 and the horrific circumstances of the daughter’s conception are finally revealed.
She almost gagged at the stench that rose from the open drain that ran down the side of the lane. A nauseating mixture of boiled cabbage, urine and vomit reeked in the stagnant air. She was pulled round several more corners, the shouts and laughter of the boardwalk revellers a distant memory. She stumbled as he pushed her in front of him onto a wooden staircase that shook under her. One shoe fell through the gap between two treads disappearing into the weeds that struggled towards the dim light that slanted through the same space. There was no chance to retrieve it as Luigi jabbed a knuckle into her spine urging her forwards. Her protests were ignored as a sliver of wood penetrated through her stocking and into the flesh of her instep.
Now she was thrust through a doorway, screwing up her eyes as they adjusted to the dim light of the space beyond. Through a small window high up on a wall to her left a shaft of sunlight shone blue through the smoke. Dust motes glinted within it. As her eyes followed its line she saw that it fell on the side of a green glass bottle and the dribble of amber wax that had congealed on its side. A candle had been jammed into the bottle’s opening and its smoky flame provided the only other illumination.
The men were seated around a rough wooden table, downing slugs of red wine from earthen ware mugs. There were four of them. As their cheers and laughter subsided, one that she judged from his appearance to be the oldest, said something in Italian. She recognised some of the words from her years working for Luigi and his family.
“You did well Luigi,” then, turning to his companions, “She will do fine eh boys?” this was greeted with more cheers and laughter. As Luigi pushed her further into the room the older man reached towards her and, grasping her other arm pulled her to him. Despite the terror that rose within her, she found herself sitting on the man’s outthrust leg, the palm of his hand heavy on her breast. She tried to pull it away but another hand grasped her wrist twisting her arm painfully against the sharpness of the wooden chair back. More hands were probing beneath her skirt, tearing at her clothing.