Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lost by Jacqueline Davies

This novel interweaves the story of the missing persons case that fascinates me most of all, the 1910 disappearance of heiress Dorothy Arnold from New York’s Fifth Avenue, with the tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory the following year.

Lost is the story of two young women, both, in their own way, lost though they may not know it. First, there is the mysterious Harriet Abbott, a woman clearly too refined and educated for the menial sweatshop labor of finishing sleeves at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory for $6 a week. What is a woman who clearly springs from wealth and means and is unaccustomed to this kind of work and taking care of herself doing in a place like this? Then there is Essie Rosenfeld, a poor Jewish girl from the city’s teeming tenements who dreams of owning her own hat shop someday, but in the meantime is torn between her love for her neighbor Jimmy, a young law student who encourages her love of books, and her preoccupation with providing the best for her little sister Zelda, and her resentment of the mother she believes does all she can to crush her every fragile chance at happiness.

Essie and Harriet strike up an unlikely friendship, but after seeing some old newspapers Essie begins to suspect that Harriet is not the widow disowned by her family and fallen on hard times after the death of her husband that she claims to be. And when her brother Saulie is arrested and Essie goes to the police station to bail him out she sees the Missing poster with a face she knows all too well blazoned on it and realizes that Harriet is really the high society girl Dorothy Harriet Camille Arnold who mysterious disappeared, vanishing in broad daylight, while shopping on Fifth Avenue.

But truths will be obliterated, burned away or laid bare, agonizingly scarred and blistering by the tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory that soon follows on March 25, 1911. And I won’t spoil the story for anyone by saying what those truths are.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I thought it was such a clever idea, and though it is marketed as a young adult book, I highly recommend it to adults as well. It wonderfully captures the atmosphere of life in New York in 1911 and the deplorable and unsafe working conditions the girls who plied the sewing machines in the sweatshops and factories endured.

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