My friend Pamela Schoenewaldt has written a wonderful novel, When We Were Strangers, arriving on book shelves January 25, 2011. I’ve always been attracted to stories about immigrants (I was a “foreigner” for 8 years of my adult life–4 in Greece and 4 in Switzerland) and how they adapt to a new culture. This story feeds my interest and more. Although the novel is about an Italian, there is also a Greek involved. My husband Yianni and I were happy to answer questions about Greek life whenever Pamela asked, so I’ve seen this novel evolve and flower.
“If you leave Opi, you’ll die with strangers,” Irma Vitale’s mother always warned. But Irma is too poor and too plain to marry and can’t find honest work in her tiny mountain village in Southern Italy. Barely twenty, she must leave home bearing only native wit and astonishing skill with a needle. Risking rough passage across the Atlantic, a single woman in a strange land, Irma seeks a new life sewing dresses for gentlewomen.
Swept up in the crowded streets of nineteenth-century America, Irma finds workshop servitude and miserable wages, but also seeds of friendship in the raw immigrant quarters. When her determination leads at last to Chicago, Irma blossoms under the hand of an austere Alsatian dressmaker, sewing fabrics and patterns more beautiful than she’d ever imagined. Then this tenuous peace is shattered. From the rubble, confronting human cruelty and kindness, suffering and hope, a new Irma emerges, nurturing a talent she’d never imagined and an unlikely family, patched together by the common threads that unite us all.”
(Taken from http://pamelaschoenewaldt.com/)
When We Were Strangers is a Spring 2011 Selection for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Program, a Book-of-the-Month Club and Doubleday Book Club alternate selection for January, 2011.
“Schoenewaldt’s heartbreaking debut is the late 19th century immigrant coming-of-age story of poor, plain Irma Vitale…Irma’s adventures and redeeming evolution make this a serious book club contender.” — Publishers Weekly
“Lucid, unembellished prose that draws your attention to what’s important…When We Were Strangers transports you convincingly into Irma Vitale’s life as she journeys toward self-discovery, toward a place to belong, toward love.” — Michael Knight, author of The Typist
“I was caught up in this compelling tale from page one. In vivid and inventive prose Pamela Schoenewaldt spins out the story of immigrant Irma Vitale’s odyssey from her tiny Italian village to the jostling crowds of urban America in the l880s–a heroine of courage and grit in a time of tumultuous change and opportunity. I was eager to follow every twist and turn. As a reader and frequent reviewer I long for this kind of lovely prose. A cut above.” — Carolly Erickson, author of The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette
“Readable and engaging…The language is deceptively simple, the people as real as your own family, and the tale realistic enough to be any American’s …This is a story that is not finished simply because the reader has reached the last page–a memorable novel.” — Nancy E. Turner, author of These is My Words
Read more reviews at http://pamelaschoenewaldt.com/