223 Orchard Street
Orchard Street, on New York City’s Lower East Side, was the destination of many immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of these immigrants were Russian Jews, but there were Italians and Irish as well. Often the families came one by one.
In 1905, Katie O’Connor comes to live with her aunt and cousin at 223 Orchard Street. She works in a button factory and saves enough money to bring over her sister, Shannon. Katie travels to Ellis Island to meet Shannon only to find she has been quarantined. Kate renews an acquaintance with Titus Brentwood, a volunteer doctor at Ellis Island whom she met on her arrival a year earlier. Katie tells Titus about Shannon and enlists his help in getting her released. Shannon is not sick and should not have been quarantined; however, she is pregnant. Her fiancé, Liam, has missed the boat and Shannon spends her days expecting his arrival. Back in Ireland, Katie had trained to be a midwife, so Titus hires her to help him in his medical office. Life now begins an upward course, especially after Liam’s arrival.
Ms. Ryan relates the immigrant experience with empathetic compassion. She captures the hopes and struggles to adapt to a foreign country in an area full of foreigners from various countries, all of whom have brought their customs with them, some to be incorporated in their new life, others to be abandoned. Visitors to Orchard Street today will find it teeming with shoppers and tourists, and if they look hard they will find semblances of what it was like a century ago.