I couldn’t paint. I had nothing to say. My art had left me and all I could do was capture the story behind the eyes of a pretty girl. Somehow, in the past few weeks, I had become silenced. My voice was gone and I was becoming ever less certain that it would return.
(from Land of Dreams, page 165)
Quick summary: Land of Dreams is the last installment in Kate Kerrigan’s Ellis Island trilogy that follows headstrong Ellie Hogan, who has left Ireland for good to forge a new life in New York City. Set in 1942, Ellie has become a well-known artist and is raising her adopted sons, Leo and Tom, on Fire Island off the Long Island shore. She has settled into the quiet life of an artist, but all that changes when 16-year-old Leo runs away from his boarding school to Hollywood to become an actor. It’s not long before Ellie, Tom, and her old friend Bridie have forged a new life in Los Angeles. Ellie has lost her creativity, and after the loss of two husbands, she thinks her desire to love and be loved has left her as well. Amidst the fame and greed of Hollywood, the Japanese internment camps, and memories of the life she left behind, Ellie embarks on a friendship with a Polish composer, Stan, and puts her dreams on the sidelines to give her son a chance to live his own.
What I liked: Land of Dreams can be read as a standalone novel. Of course, you’ll care more about Ellie if you read all three books in order, but Kerrigan provides enough back story so you won’t feel too lost — which was good for me since it’s been a year since I read the previous books, and I needed a quick update. I love the character of Ellie. She has gone through so much in her 42 years, but she has always managed to pull herself up, adapt, and move forward. Having long wanted to be a mother, Ellie would do anything for Tom and Leo, putting them first in all things. The first-person narrative helps emphasize how much she has endured and how much she has sacrificed, and Kerrigan does a great job ensuring that readers understand Ellie, even when they don’t agree with her. Hollywood in the 1940s is an intriguing setting, but Kerrigan doesn’t let readers forget that there is a war going on. The fighting may be happening elsewhere, but the tensions and the animosity toward anyone with a connection to Germany and Japan, however slight, is very real and very dangerous. However, Kerrigan also doesn’t let the war take center stage.
What I disliked: The only thing I didn’t like was having to say goodbye to Ellie when I turned the last page.
Final thoughts: Ellie’s fierce love for her children shines through, and the same take-charge attitude and adaptability that enabled her to survive hunger, build successful businesses, and keep going after tough losses help her see through the glitz and glamor of Hollywood. Even while stepping aside to let her son shine, Ellie cannot completely hide in the shadows, and the relationships she forges in Hollywood make her realize she still has much to learn about life, love, and creativity. Land of Dreams is a satisfying conclusion to the Ellis Island trilogy, which centers on love and loss, family, the immigrant experience, and the American Dream. The trilogy spans the years of the Irish War of Independence, the Great Depression, and World War II and follows a woman who was truly ahead of her time.
Disclosure: I received Land of Dreams from William Morrow for review.
© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.