When We Were Strangers, by Pamela Schoenewaldt
Irma Vitale is a plain young woman in Opi, a small mountain village in Italy. She has no good marriage prospects, and life is difficult at home since her mother died. Her aunt and priest encourage her to follow her brother Carlos to Cleveland, even though Carlos has never written to tell them he arrived safely. Irma sews and embroiders well, and hopes to be a dressmaker. With the help of friends made along the way, she gets to Cleveland. While she finds work and makes friends in Cleveland, she makes very little money and works long hours sewing collars. With great difficulty, she travels to Chicago and eventually finds work for a dressmaker, although few employers want to hire immigrants. After a tragedy, she is asked to assist Sophia in a free clinic, and eventually moves to San Francisco with her friend Molly, where Irma can see hills and ocean again. Set in the 1880s, Irma’s story makes for excellent reading. This is the first novel by Pamela Schoenewaldt, who lived for ten years in Italy.