Despite its flaws, I absolutely loved this novel. From the very beginning, I found protagonist Clara Kelley compelling, and I loved the way that author Marie Benedict introduced a flavor of danger into Clara’s life, by having her almost forced to impersonate another young woman, also called Clara Kelley, whom she probably witnessed dying, (knocking her head while the ship pitched and heaved, and being thrown overboard the next day after she’d died from her injuries.)
And so Clara Kelley, a farmer’s daughter from Galway in the West of Ireland has to impersonate Clara Kelley, daughter of impoverished upper-middle-class people from Dublin. Somehow, she managed to pull it off, for four years, until someone made it their business to do a little investigating.
This book had heart. I loved the unflinching descriptions of the poverty of the Irish working poor in Pittsburgh and in Ireland itself. I loved the way that author Marie Benedict conveyed the hopelessness that these people were subjected to, as they were denied access to education, and were at the mercy of unfeeling landlords who took their land (and income) from them.
They literally had no-where to go, unless, of course, they’d had the foresight to send one of their children to the United States, someone who was incredibly smart, incredibly quick, and through her talents (and the encouragement of her master Andrew Carnegie), was able to make an unbelievable sum of money which she used to rescue her family.
It was this same Andrew Carnegie who decided, at the age of 33, for reasons that no-one yet quite understands, to be a philanthropist. And so author Marie Benedict invented the fictional Clara Kelley to give him that motivation. Five stars.