I’m welcoming award-winning novelist Susan Meissner during a blog tour for her new book, A Fall of Marigolds by publisher Penguin NAL.
Susan is the multi-published author of fifteen books, including The Shape of Mercy, named one of the 100 Best Novels in 2008 by Publishers Weekly and the ECPA’s Fiction Book of the Year. She is also a speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. She and her husband make their home in Southern California.
Connect with Susan Meissner on Twitter @SusanMeissner.
Visit Susan Meissner’s Website at www.susanmeissner.com.
A Fall of Marigolds, the topic of today’s post, is a part historical novel, part contemporary novel set on Ellis Island in 1911 and in Manhattan a hundred years later.
In this post you’ll find my review of the novel and at the end of the post, information about a terrific prize drawing for a fabulous gift basket that includes a $100 Visa gift card, a copy of the book, the DVD Forgotten Ellis Island, and a beautiful re-purposed infinity scarf patterned in marigolds and made from a vintage Indian sari.
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A beautiful scarf, passed down through the generations, connects two women who learn that the weight of the world is made bearable by the love we give away…
My Book Review of A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner:
Wow. Beautiful story, beautifully written.
A Fall of Marigolds tells the tale of two women (and I feel, a man, a minor character whose story arc I was particularly drawn to) separated in time by 100 years, but bound together by a scarf with a fall of marigolds on it. Clara Wood, a nurse on Ellis Island in September 1911, mourns the loss of the man she loved who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. She meets a mysterious immigrant also mourning the loss of his wife to scarlet fever. Present-day widow, Taryn Michaels, an Upper West Side textile specialist, mourns the loss of her husband who died in the collapse of the World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001.
In this captivating novel, readers move between the two stories as the women struggle with loss due to tragic circumstances. Both women saw firsthand the tragic events of these historically significant horrors that claimed the lives of the men they loved and both women struggle with similar unanswered questions about love in the aftermath of their loss.
After a moment, Dolly took my hands. “And here all this time I thought it was fear of fire that keeps you stuck on Ellis. It’s not the fire. It’s what it took from you, isn’t it? That’s why you never want to come ashore with us. Because of what you lost, not what you escaped.” (p. 65)
There’s a beautiful connection to a scarf woven throughout the story and I particularly loved the inclusion of Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats in the story and at the back of the book. I was captivated from the opening scene in which modern-day Taryn is asked to conduct a historical study of a piece of cloth brought to her textile business by an older woman. I have a background in textiles and felt right away that this book was written for me. I loved the value placed on a pattern book the immigrant, Andrew, carried with him through Ellis. I had no idea where this journey would take me, but loved following the scarf through time and place, from Ellis Island and the secret letter in Clara’s pocket, to modern-day Taryn and the photograph of the florist who helped her stand after being knocked down at the scene of the falling of the World Trade Centers. There’s a series of events toward the conclusion of the book that is almost scary, involving a man that is tracking Andrew, the immigrant Clara was carrying for at Ellis Island. I really enjoyed the excitement and tension this brought to the novel.
I enjoyed the passage of time, I enjoyed the movement of immigrants through Ellis Island, I enjoyed the tenderness shared by the characters in the novel. I enjoyed the over-arching premise of the book and I enjoyed watching it unravel in interesting ways as I read. The conclusion is very satisfying, with letters and people who speak of love and loss. This is a book to read with your favorite quilt and a cup of tea. After reading the novel, you’ll probably sit like I did, and think about the characters and their lives, savoring the beauty of their stories. Five stars.
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Because this book is structured with a passage of time that spans 100 years between two famous events in history, I thought I’d bring you two responses from a recent interview in which Susan was asked:
Q: Your last few novels have had historical components interwoven within a contemporary story. Why do you prefer that kind of story construction?
A: I think living in Europe for five years awakened my love for history. It’s like it was always there but my time spent overseas just woke it up. When I think back to the subjects I did well in and that came easy to me in high school and college, it was always English and history, never math or science. I appreciate the artistry of math and the complexity of science, but neither subject comes easy to me. History has the word “story” in it. That’s what it is. It’s the story of everyone and everything. How could I not love it? Study history and you learn very quickly what we value as people; what we love, what we fear, what we hate, what we are willing die for. History shows us where we’ve been and usually has lessons for us to help us chart where we’re going.
Q: What led you to dovetail the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 with 9/11?
A: When I first began pulling at story threads, my first instinct was to tell a story about an immigrant struggling to remain hopeful as an unwilling patient at Ellis Island hospital. But the more I toyed with whose story this was, the more I saw instead a young nurse, posting herself to a place where every disease known and unknown showed up. It was a place like no other; a waiting place – a place where the dozens of languages spoken added to the unnatural homelessness of it. Why was she here? Why did she choose this post? Why did she refuse to get on the ferry on Saturday nights to reconnect with the real world? What kind of person would send herself to Ellis not just to work, but to live? Someone who needed a place to hover suspended. I knew something catastrophic had to happen to her to make her run to Ellis for cover. As I began researching possible scenarios, I came across the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, which up until 9/11 was arguably the worst urban disaster to befall Manhattan. There were similarities between that fire and 9/11, including the tragic fact that many trapped workers jumped to their deaths rather than perish in the flames. For every person lost in disasters such as these, there is always his or her individual story, and the stories of those who loved them. I wanted to imagine two of those stories.
Ellis Island Hosptial Contagious Wards Room – present day
Leave a comment for your chance to win two great prizes!
As part of the release of A Fall of Marigolds and this blog tour, Susan is giving to one lucky winner a gift basket that includes a $100 Visa gift card, a copy of the book, the DVD Forgotten Ellis Island, and a beautiful re-purposed infinity scarf patterned in marigolds and made from a vintage Indian sari. To be eligible, just leave a comment here between today and midnight Eastern on Friday, February 21, 2014. If you would like to see a list of the other participating blogs on this tour, just click here. Feel free to visit those blogs and increase your chances of winning by posting one comment on those blogs as well. One comment per blog will be eligible.
Additionally, there will be one winner of a signed copy of A Fall of Marigolds from among those who comment on this blog. Just leave a comment by Friday, Feb. 21, 2014 and you’re in the running for the grand prize as well as a signed copy of the book. Good luck!
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(Hey you, don’t be shy . . . leave a comment for your chance to win these great prizes!)
MARCH 1st UPDATE:
Congratulations to Anne R. Allen. Her comment was chosen by Random.org as the winning comment on this blog for the Susan Meissner A Fall of Marigolds blog tour. Anne will receive a signed copy of Susan’s wonderful book, reviewed here on Julie Valerie’s Book Blog.
Congratulations, Anne, and thank you to all those who left a comment and took part in our book discussion. Your comments are very much appreciated by both the author and me, the book blogger.