When your dreams finally seem to be coming true, it’s hard to trust them.
It’s been four years since seventeen-year-old Ruth set eyes on her fiance. After surviving near-starvation, revolution and a long trip across the stormy ocean, she can’t help but wonder: Will Abraham still love her? Or has America changed him?
Nowhere’s as full of change as 1909 New York. From moving pictures to daring clothes to the ultra-modern Triangle Shirtwaist Factory where she gets a job, everything exhilarates Ruth. When the New World even seems to rejuvenate her bond with Abraham, she is filled with hope for their prospects and the future of their war-torn families.
But when she makes friends and joins the labor movement—fighting for rights of the mostly female workers against the powerful factory owners—something happens she never expected. She realizes she might be the one America is changing. And she just might be leaving Abraham behind.
The Girl in the Triangle is an immigration story that will appeal to fans of Brooklyn by Colm Toibin and The Queen of the Big Time by Adriana Trigiani. It questions what it means to be an American, and what is the true meaning of strength.
JOYANA PETERS grew up in New York and loves exploring—this led to her discovery of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the stories it holds. She currently lives in the DC area and continues to write narratives that shine a light on empowering women and moments in history.
“You’ll get gunned down while singing “God Save the Czar” as you march peacefully to Winter Palace.”
An immigration story at the finest level, revealing the depths of tragedy many went through leaving a country of unspeakable suffering to another country where hope fills their hearts, yet the same sorts of inhumanity exist.
Ruth dreams of America, but fears it all the same. She finally makes it to New York City, along with her mother and sister, to rejoin her father and her fiancé, Abraham, after being left behind in war-torn Russia at the onslaught of the turmoil brewing against the Tsar. They left a life filled with near starvation, impending revolution, and a tumultuous voyage across the ocean... all for hope... all for a better life.
“Ruth, however, never understood this deep-seated acceptance of the rules. To her they seemed like mere technicalities – an excuse for men to sit around arguing about logistics and interpretation.... how could you argue for sitting still and doing nothing when you’re wondering how you’ll provide your next meal?”
Yet, she wonders as she comes to this city of dreams whether or not her arranged marriage to Abraham is still part of that dream. Four years has passed since she saw him, since he left her behind in Russia. New York is a modern city full of the advances and new ideas... and many struggle to maintain their former ideals and way of life. After all, to some the old Jewish traditions seem archaic against the backdrop of a city on the move. Yet, she is hopeful in their reunion and the chance at true love.
Living in an apartment building walk-up, filled with other Jewish families, and her own family crowded together in a tiny flat, tradition remains firmly fixed in hearts and minds; and I must say, I learned a lot about different Jewish words and meanings, as well as daily and weekly rituals of the faith. And from right off, you can see the struggle Ruth has with the return to a submissive and somewhat oppressed way of life when she just left Russia where she, alone, had to take care of her mother and sister without any help from the men-folk in her life. Even though she suffered in the old country, the taste of independence and taking charge fills her mind and gives her boldness, sometimes a little too much, when dealing with her father and her fiancé.
“Was this the way the world worked? Evil could happen and life would just go on?”
When marriage is again delayed due to Abraham wanting to wait until he can bring his own family from Russia for the wedding, Ruth comes up with a plan to help out... to bring money into the family by taking on a job at the factory where Abraham works, simply known as The Triangle. Not only does the prospect enliven her already fixed desire for independence, her new found friends and the new fashions of the day (shirtwaists and Gibson-girl bouffants) fill her with excitement. And for a while, the attraction she feels for Abraham, and vice-versa, grows.
Until... the reality of working in a New York City factory at the turn-of-the-century strikes home. Greed is the order of the day with the uncaring factory owner, Max Blanck, subjecting the workers to long hours, a cruel and lascivious overseer, miniscule pay, and dangerous facilities. You can just feel the heat and anguish of the workers at the sewing machines whirring away endlessly stitching one shirtwaist after another, after another, with a meager lunch and no room to speak of between you and the next girl. The perfect recipe for disaster.
“Ruth lifted her arms to air out her armpits. Her blouse stuck to her skin with sweat. Between the heat from the machines and the temperature of the day, it was sweltering in the factory. She glanced at the clock. Only ten minutes had passed since she last checked.”
America grabs hold of Ruth and pulls her into the fray of labor movements and woman’s suffrage, the fight for justice against the greedy owners, and the author does a great job of introducing the reader to the plight of the picket line. But as Ruth fights for change, the continuity of tradition clings to her sister, Ester, and fixes Abraham’s mind as he discovers Ruth’s desire to join in these riotous changes is pulling them apart... and perhaps, drawing him closer to the little sister who desires nothing more than to be a good Jewish wife who helps immigrants to maintain their identity while adopting the American culture in a more refined and inclusive way.
And disaster does strike, suddenly and without warning, and from the very first line in the book, you are given a preview of the climax of the story - “740 days before the fire.” A tragedy which changes lives as quick as flames devour... with Ruth emerging as a strong, resilient American woman embracing her heritage.
The Girl in the Triangle is an easy, quick read... more so that the story pushes you forward as you eagerly anticipate the developments in Ruth’s life. Ms Peters does a great job in rounding out the characters, fleshing them in a way that you connect with each and every one of them – from Ruth’s strong-willed, and sometimes head-strong, fortitude to the emerging strength shown in Ruth’s mother as she deals with tragedies no parent should ever have to face. I really connected with Ruth and her mother. Ruth shows a fragility behind the strong facade, while her mother reveals a powerful strength behind her fragile demeanor. And Ester, Ruth’s younger sister, displays a combination of the two... a romantic soul trying to find her place in this New World, and desperate for love.
This is a powerful story of greed, love, betrayal, struggle, and rising above tragedy; definitely a story of so many immigrants who crossed the ocean, through the gates of Ellis Island, and looked to the future with beaming eyes, ready to take a bite of the Big Apple. And Ms Peters offers us this story in perfect prose, pushing a reader ever forward on this journey with Ruth, so much so that it is easy to read from beginning to end without putting the book down.
Being from the United States, myself, I learned quite a bit about this part of American history that I did not know. That is what historical fiction does for a reader, a slice of history wrapped up in a compelling story that teaches and makes us reflect on the words and our own lives in the stream of time. Injustice and man’s inhumanity connects everyone, no matter the time period, and Ruth’s voice speaks from 1908 to today. Hope is eternal.
The Girl from the Triangle by Joyana Peters is awarded five stars from The Historical Fiction Company and the “Highly Recommended” award badge.
CEO of The Historical Fiction Company
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