Two residents of New York in the early 1900s dominate this novel. Both are victims of the society they have been born into.
Coralie Sardie was born with a birth defect that shapes her life. It allows her domineering father to display her as the Mermaid in his freak show museum in the amusement park on Coney Island.
Eddie Cohen is a Russian Jew who escaped pogroms with his father to work for pennies in American clothes factories.
He consciously breaks away from his past to become a photographer.
Hoffman uses the real life fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory to bring the two main characters together.
In one of the worst industrial accidents in US history 123 women and 23 men died.
Factory bosses had locked the doors of the ninth floor sewing room to stop workers “malingering” on the stairwells.
Widespread workers’ protests after the fire led to some of the first health and safety laws for US factories.
The tales of the main characters interweave beautifully and seamlessly through this book.
Behind this is a rich backdrop showing the exploitation of children and workers and the oppression of women and immigrants.
It is a magical book that has a depth yet lightness of touch which makes it a joy to read.
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