Meet my most recent paginated lover …
I have started reading books only to break up with them a couple of chapters in (you will never hear me say, “that book was okay.” If it’s not blowing my mind, I stop). For me, a book is like an amazing lover: it has to rock my universe. It has to suck me in so completely that it becomes my world, my be-all, until I’ve finished it—and that’s often in as few as two days, or, at most, a week. I have to have a serious romance with it, to the point that when I finish, I go into a strange state of grief.
On a break from work last week, an article about unique historical fiction reads popped into my feed, and I was lucky enough to stumble onto A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner.
From “7 Unique Historical Fiction Reads That Put a Twist on the Genre,” by Chris Gaudio over at Off the Shelf: “Historical fiction inevitably features tragedies of the past, but what’s so unique about Susan Meissner’s A FALL OF MARIGOLDS is the thread that connects two such events: The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and collapse of the World Trade Towers. That thread is, unexpectedly, a scarf and helps two women navigate the loss of their respective significant others 100 years apart. Touching and sympathetic, this novel embraces the historical fiction genre’s tendency to explore tragedies, but does so with a one-of-a-kind narrative vehicle.” (Find his original article here: https://offtheshelf.com/2021/05/unique-historical-fiction-reads/)
If you know me personally, then you know that tragedies appeal to me. This novel sounded like it was in my wheelhouse—but I’ve made the mistake of buying books based solely on the description in the past (and most of those have just been donated, even if I didn’t read them). My new test? If I download the Kindle sample and can’t put it down, I purchase the paperback.
Such was the case with A Fall of Marigolds.
That was last Wednesday. I got the book Friday. Today I finished it. But what was most cool about this reading experience was that it also led me down a simultaneously familiar and mysterious rabbit hole: while the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire has long been on my radar, and I’ve read several books and articles on the subject (just today, though, I found one written in 2004 that somehow managed to elude me, so that’s on my list to read next), the hospitals on Ellis Island—where infirm immigrants were detained for treatment before they could step onto American soil—were completely foreign to me. Since both sets of my grandparents came through Ellis, I now wonder if any had been detained, as there are no records of their health status that I know of. My next watch will be the documentary Forgotten Ellis Island.
Also previously unknown to me were a couple of other major fires in the preceding years; one in a tenement in 1905, and one in a Newark factory in 1910, after which experts predicted that the similar conditions to many factories in Manhattan would lead to another tragedy if something wasn’t done.
As we all know, those experts weren’t wrong.
A Fall of Marigolds is a stunning book, not just because its settings make the history real, relatable, and piques an interest in wanting to know more, but because it’s an examination of the true nature of perception versus reality—and how it can be more destructive to moving on with our lives than even paralyzing grief. If you’re looking for historical fiction that’s an easy, non-stop read and yet speaks to the universal struggle to grow beyond tragedy and trauma—particularly if you have grieved a loss, or even if you’re grieving now—this is it.
Posted on June 1, 2021, in Deep Thoughts & Fun Stuff and tagged 7 Unique Historical Fiction Reads that Put a Twist on the Genre by Chris Gaudio, A Fall of Marigolds, books about 9/11, books about Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, books that deal with loss and grief, books with the theme of perception versus reality, Ellis Island Hospitals, historical fiction with romance in it, Off the Shelf book lists, Susan Meissner, unique historical fiction. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.