A Fall of Marigolds

A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner Named to Booklist’s Top Ten Women’s Fiction for 2014.

I, like many of you, am part of a book club. Many times we enjoy reading new selections, well-reviewed books fresh from the pages of Booklist or The New York Times. Working at the library, however, I am surrounded by rows and rows of beautifully written, interesting and awe-inspiring books. They may not be the newest or hot off the press, but, like an old friend, they absolutely deserve a visit from time to time. Therefore, it is with great pleasure that I review “A Fall of Marigolds”.

From author Susan Meissner’s website:

“September 1911: On Ellis Island, nurse Clara Wood can’t face returning to Manhattan where the man she loved fell to his death in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. While caring for a fevered immigrant whose own loss mirrors hers, she finds herself caught in a dilemma that compels her to confront the truth about the assumptions she’s made about love. September 2011: On Manhattan’s Upper West Side, 9/11 widow Taryn Michaels has convinced herself that she is living fully, working in a charming specialty fabric store and raising her daughter alone. Then a long-lost photograph appears and she is forced to relive the terrible day her husband died – the same day a stranger reached out and saved her. Will a chance reconnection open Taryn’s eyes to the larger forces at work in her life?”

I almost skipped this book when I read about the 9/11 connection. I was concerned that the story would be too graphic, too sad. Though I know no one who was directly affected by any of the events that day, what happened still feels personal, rather than historical. After reading critiques of Ms. Meissner’s writing style, and reviews and descriptions of her other books, however, I decided to check it out. What I found between the covers was a beautifully written book that doesn’t sensationalize either of the historical events it is wrapped around. Rather, it truly uses these tragedies to show how lost love affects the lives of the living.

”A shimmering novel of love and acceptance” - New York Times Bestselling Author Sandra Dallas.,,,,,,

”Susan Meissner knits the past and present with the seamless skill of a master storyteller. A beautifully written, moving novel that had me gripped from the first page.” - Kate Kerrigan, New York Times bestselling author of “Ellis Island”

Most of the story takes place on Ellis Island, in the hospital quarters where newly-arriving immigrants whom are deemed too sick to enter the mainland of America are detained until they hopefully recuperate. The sick who make it through the hospital are actually the lucky ones, as others are sent back to their homeland, or die on Ellis Island. Clara is working primarily with patients affected by scarlet fever. It is obvious that the author did an impressive amount of research on both scarlet fever and the Ellis Island hospitals before writing this book. She masterfully weaves science and history within her fictional tale, and makes the reader feel as if they’re right there, while the events are unfolding in 1911.

The same can be said about the writing of Taryn’s story, and the events that unfolded around the Twin Towers on September 11th, 2011, a century after Clara’s story takes place in 1911. The author does a skilled job of telling Taryn’s story from the viewpoint of someone on the street as the towers fell, putting you there and making you feel a part of it with a keen sense of empathy, without getting too graphic or sensationalizing what happened that day.

In addition to the connection to love and heartbreak that Clara and Taryn share, the author weaves in a story of a brightly colored scarf that makes it’s way across the miles, through the years, integrating itself in an important way into the lives of both women. The beautiful orange scarf, with a fall of marigolds woven into it factors into the story in a dramatic fashion.

From an interview with the author, when asked about the significance of the scarf of marigolds on the blog “Leah’s Thoughts” by writer and editor Lead Singer:

“Marigolds aren’t like most other flowers. They aren’t beautiful and fragrant. You don’t see them in bridal bouquets or prom corsages or funeral sprays. They don’t come in gentle colors like pink and lavender and baby blue. Marigolds are hearty, pungent and brassy. They are able to bloom in the autumn months, well past the point when many other flowers can’t. In that respect, I see marigolds as being symbolic of the strength of the human spirit to risk loving again after loss. Because, face it. We live in a messy world. Yet it’s the only one we’ve got. We either love here or we don’t. The title of the book has a sort of double-meaning. Both the historical and contemporary story take place primarily in the autumn.”

Indeed, both of the main characters, Clara and Taryn display strength amidst tragedy, though like every human being, they struggle through doubt, fear and overwhelming sadness. Like us, they live in a messy world, but it’s the only one they’ve got. So, although September has passed, we are indeed in the presence of autumn, and perhaps this is a great time to explore “A Fall of Marigolds”.

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