THE IMMIGRANT TRAIN AND OTHER STORIES by Natalie L.M. Petesch

THE IMMIGRANT TRAIN AND OTHER STORIES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Mirthless documentary-style stories about turn-of-the-century Polish immigrants struggling to find a home in America. The eight stories and novella here all involve ordinary people who start out from the village of Lunawicz and who, as Petesch (Flowing Mimosa, 1987, etc.) writes in the dedication, ``like my mother, came, labored in misery, cold, and darkness, and perished unknown.'' Each grim, straightforward tale is basically the same--a poor peasant flees troubled Poland for opportunity--the only variation being the relative success of the new life. In ``The Beekeeper,'' a young Polish beekeeper turned midwestern steelworker tries to keep bees in his horrid tenement. In ``The Orphan Train,'' New York street urchins are sent to the Midwest to work on farms- -the biggest, strongest children taken first, the weakest not chosen until bleak Minnesota. In ``Czesio's Boots,'' a couple meet meet on the ship to America after the young man's boots are stolen. Once in Massachusetts, the two are caught up in a violent demonstration against the exploitation of women and children in factories--a theme, the exploitation of immigrants, that is sounded throughout the collection. Petesch is most successful when she's describing the wide-eyed wonder of the newcomers: ``The buildings! The buildings! Look! Will we live in such tall buildings?'' a boy asks from the vantage of New York Harbor in ``Pawel in America,'' a novella about a doctor who's forced to pass himself off as a farmer in order to escape to Minnesota. ``Pawel'' is the best piece here, with meticulous and wise observations about the doctor's condescending treatment at Ellis Island. But too often the stories devolve into sentimental and flat representations of history with little that's convincingly illuminated about the characters other than their rigid determination to survive. The subject matter is compelling, but this veteran writer does little to bring the Polish immigrant experience to life.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-8040-0991-0
Page count: 207pp
Publisher: Swallow Press/Ohio Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1996




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