A Heroic Novel of Survival During the 1918 Influenza Pandemic
From the publisher:
From the internationally bestselling author of What She Left Behind comes a gripping and powerful tale of upheaval—a heartbreaking saga of resilience and hope perfect for fans of Beatriz Williams and Kristin Hannah—set in Philadelphia during the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak—the deadly pandemic that went on to infect one-third of the world’s population…
In the fall of 1918, thirteen-year-old German immigrant Pia Lange longs to be far from Philadelphia’s overcrowded slums and the anti-immigrant sentiment that compelled her father to enlist in the U.S. Army. But as her city celebrates the end of war, an even more urgent threat arrives: the Spanish flu. Funeral crepe and quarantine signs appear on doors as victims drop dead in the streets and desperate survivors wear white masks to ward off illness. When food runs out in the cramped tenement she calls home, Pia must venture alone into the quarantined city in search of supplies, leaving her baby brothers behind.
Bernice Groves has become lost in grief and bitterness since her baby died from the Spanish flu. Watching Pia leave her brothers alone, Bernice makes a shocking, life-altering decision. It becomes her sinister mission to tear families apart when they’re at their most vulnerable, planning to transform the city’s orphans and immigrant children into what she feels are “true Americans.”
Waking in a makeshift hospital days after collapsing in the street, Pia is frantic to return home. Instead, she is taken to St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum – the first step in a long and arduous journey. As Bernice plots to keep the truth hidden at any cost in the months and years that follow, Pia must confront her own shame and fear, risking everything to see justice – and love – triumph at last. Powerful, harrowing, and ultimately exultant, The Orphan Collector is a story of love, resilience, and the lengths we will go to protect those who need us most.
Ellen Marie Wiseman presents her readers with the most hard-hitting and well-researched novel that it has been my pleasure to read. It provides a microcosmic view of a worldwide pandemic that devastated the world right on the heels of the First World War. The Spanish Flu, as it was termed, actually surpassed the deaths of the combatants in its mortality rate. Beginning in 1918 as the war was winding down towards its end, the first “wave” of the disease began and continued in two additional waves before it had run its course.
Wiseman uses two women living in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area during the period of the outbreak and spread of the flu as the principal characters of the novel. The first is a young girl of 13 who is faced with the most horrible situation that any human can encounter. Pia Lange is the daughter of a family that emigrated from Germany before the war began. In order to convince people that he was not a traitor Pia’s father enlisted in the U.S. Army and was sent to France and life in the trenches. Pia’s mother was forced to handle the family’s problems, tending to Pia and two twin baby brothers. There was very little social network support in those days and her mother was destroyed by both her work in the apartment they lived in as well as having to bring in money. When the lady died from being run down and contracting the flu, Pia had to take her place. Wiseman’s descriptions of Pia’s struggles and problems are heartbreaking when she is used as an example of how orphans were treated in the past.
Bernice Groves is the other woman involved in the story. She has just had her baby pass away due to the disease and is understandably devastated by it. Bernice sees Pia leaving her building one day and makes a decision that will affect both women and the near future course of their lives. The decision and its consequences are the gist of the story and the means of writing about the effect the flu has on everyone living at the time of the event. Wiseman is extremely effective in fleshing out the characters that take part in the novel and the personal agonies that they suffer in trying to survive a disease that seems to have no end in sight.
8/2020 Paul Lane
THE ORPHAN COLLECTOR by Ellen Marie Wiseman. Kensington (August 4, 2020). ISBN: 978-1496715869. 304 pages.