As I walked I breathed in the wet, muggy air and remembered where I was: New York. Not Ireland, where the air was fresh and sharp, and filled with the waft of turf fires and wet grass and mint. I brought myself back to my previous time here, full of purpose and determination. This time was the same.
(from City of Hope)
City of Hope is the second book in a trilogy by Kate Kerrigan (which began with Ellis Island) about a headstrong Irish woman torn between her home in Ireland and New York, the city that enabled her to emerge from poverty, experience freedom, and take control of her life. The novel opens in 1934, and Ellie Hogan is a successful businesswoman in her small Irish town, but the sudden death of her husband and childhood sweetheart, John, prompts her to leave it all behind and rush back to New York.
Ellie expects to return to the glittery, bustling, vibrant New York she left behind 10 years ago, but the Great Depression has taken its toll. She is unable to lose herself in fine clothes and fancy parties when the streets are cluttered with the homeless, remembering the days when she and John had no money and little to eat, which is why she went to New York the first time as a maid to a spoiled, wealthy socialite. Ellie needs to find a purpose, something to distract her from her grief, and she soon finds that helping the poor — many of whom were well-to-do before losing everything they had when the stock market crashed — is her calling.
Using her determination and her business acumen, Ellie feeds and shelters these men, women, and children, and in return, builds friendships and community. Ellie must deal with men upset that their wives earn more than they do, figure out her feelings when someone from her past shows up at her door, and navigate both the rise of the labor unions and the mob.
Ellie is such an intriguing character, even though I find her annoying at times, especially her penchant for running away from her feelings. But I still can’t help but like her determination and her courage. Even when I didn’t agree with her decisions, Kerrigan made it possible for me to understand her. I also loved the assortment of characters, from the warm and loving Maidy and the sharp-tongued Bridie to the strong and caring handyman, Matt. Kerrigan makes all of them in their varied circumstances feel real, and she also brings Depression-era New York City to life.
Kerrigan provides enough information from the first book to make City of Hope a stand-alone novel, but I think readers should start with Ellis Island to really understand Ellie. Readers who enjoy immigrant stories will want to give these novels a try, as they show what life was like for people trying to achieve the American Dream and personalize the experience by focusing on a woman ahead of her time. Ellie is a complex character, and you never know what she’s going to do next, so I can’t wait to see how her story plays out in the final book.
Disclosure: I received City of Hope from William Morrow for review.
© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.