In the first decade of the 20th century, nearly 10 million immigrants journeyed to America in search of a better life. Thousands settled in Homestead, Pennsylvania, a city where the skies were always black, the steel mills were always roaring, and life was bleak and harsh. One of them, Ewa Piekos, an orphan girl of 15 from Poland, wants simply to be loved and to feel like she is not alone.On the voyage to America, Ewa’s beloved sister dies, throwing her into an emotional tailspin. It’s only after arriving at Ellis Island that Ewa learns the real reason she was brought to the Land of Golden Opportunity. This secret is almost as crushing to her as the moment her sister died. From the time she arrives at Ellis Island, Ewa’s life is never an easy one. It is filled with heartache and loss. But her life in America enables her to plant roots which eventually grow with the family she establishes there.
After I published my collection of short stories in 2014, naturally the next order of business in my head was, “what can I write about next?” And the first thought that came to mind was my paternal great-grandmother, my modern day immigrant connection. Although as an American, all of my ancestors were immigrants to the United States at one time or another, comparing the experience of a great-grandparent who came to American shores in 1912 is not quite the same as those that arrived here in 1629. (No joke, that’s when my maternal grandfather’s ancestors came; they were English-no surprise there.)
When I was a kid one of my favorite books was from the Dear America series, the one about a Russian Jewish immigrant whose family settles on New York City’s Lower East Side around the turn of the last century (Dreams in the Golden Country: the Diary of Zipporah Feldman, a Jewish immigrant girl). But really, I loved any book having to do with the immigrant experience from the early 1900s, because reading those types of books made it easier to imagine the life of my own great-grandmother Eva. It was she that served as the inspiration for my novel, The Tears of Yesteryear.
As many authors and screenwriters tend to do when penning their masterpieces, I took many creative liberties, not only because I thought it would make it more salacious (well, perhaps a smidgen) but also because Eva was always such a mystery to me. I never knew her and neither did my dad. Her son, my grandfather, died more than 15 years ago, and the life and experiences of his immigrant mother was something never discussed and most likely something he didn’t know much about either.
If Eva was my character inspiration, the 1941 novel about immigrant labor, Out of This Furnace by Thomas Bell, was my writing motivation. As much as I loved reading about immigrant life in New York City, literature on the turn of the last century immigrant experience OUTSIDE of New York is comparatively sparse. Bell’s work is set in Pittsburgh, which steered me to set The Tears of Yesteryear there as well, as I couldn’t think of a setting richer or more perfect to tell my tale. Pittsburgh after all became the home to thousands of European immigrants in the early 20th century.
If you like historical fiction, I have no doubt you will enjoy The Tears of Yesteryear. And if you’re wondering where the inspiration for the title came from, well, you’ll just have to read it.
“As they started walking back towards their berths, Ewa turned around one final time
and wondered if Lady Liberty would indeed light the way for them in this Ameryka.”
Reviews of The Tears of Yesteryear
Here’s a link to an interview I did with a Pittsburgh area radio station in June 2019 about The Tears of Yesteryear
The Tears of Yesteryear is available for sale on Amazon
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