Life in Sweden seems like an endless winter for three sisters after their mother's death and father's suicide. Elin feels the weight of responsibility for her sisters' welfare, and when circumstances become unbearable, she writes to her relatives in Chicago, pleading for help.
Joining sixteen million other immigrants who left their homelands for America between 1890 and 1920, Elin, Kirsten, and Sofia begin the long, difficult journey. Enduring the ocean voyage in steerage and detention on Ellis Island, their story is America's story. And in a journey fraught with hardships, each woman will come to understand her secret longings and the meaning of home.
Three orphaned teenage sisters are forced by circumstances to leave their homeland, Sweden, and migrate to America. The novel deals with their passage and first couple of months in Chicago.
Elin, the eldest, feels highly responsible for the other two and bears the weight of the world on her shoulders. Sometimes she comes across to both herself and the reader as a weary old woman instead of a pretty nineteen year old. Kirsten, the middle sister, is bold, statuesque and fun-loving, but has a broken heart and desperate secret which comes to light in the detention centre. Sofia, the youngest, is what we might now call an HSP (highly sensitive person), who feels things very deeply and allows the others to look out for her interests just because that's the way things have always been done.
I found it a lovely read, with a bit of romance and several interesting twists and turns. The highlight, for me, was the relationship between Sofia and Ludwig, which began in the detention centre. I've never comes across another love story quite so unique. She's Swedish, he's German, they cannot understand a word from each other but manage an ingenious way of communicating through Bible verses. And every so often, I found myself sitting back with a smile, reminding myself that as an English speaker, I'd be able to understand neither of them, yet I'm totally sold on their story. He's definitely a resourceful and admirable young guy.
The bond between the sisters, and the way the point of view shifts between the three of them from chapter to chapter is enjoyable.