Bread and Dreams


A sequel to Mina, Bread and Dreams continues the story of Mina Pigot, an Irish orphan who has escaped from England in 1848 with the help of her friend Mr. Serle, a Jew who has lost his wife and son. Together, they sail to America to find Mina’s brother, with Mr. Serle as the ship’s cook, and Mina disguising herself as his assistant, Daniel. Once in New York City, their lives take different paths, with Mina finding a home with a seamstress and her aunt, and Mr. Serle working as a chef and bewitched by a beautiful opera singer, much to Mina’s anguish.

Mina’s story is told as a diary, introduced by the device of having been found in a home that is being restored, but it hardly needs such a framework, as it is instantly compelling. Ceely brings to life mid-nineteenth century New York with all its proprieties that must be observed, the hidden and overt dangers to young women, and the racism towards both the Jews and the Irish. There is a nod to other important events of the time, with Mina’s brother seduced by the gold rush in California and leaving her to find his fortune. When she decides to join him, her life takes an unexpected detour that finds her living on a farm in upstate New York with an adopted son.

In addition to the vivid historical descriptions, Ceely has created memorable characters—loyal and wise Honor, Mina’s seamstress friend; her decorous Aunt Jane, who hides a secret; the enigmatic yet soulful Mr. Serle; and his opposite, his friend Guido DiRoma, a life-loving Italian who takes to Honor. All form a family for the orphaned Mina, and a third book detailing more of their lives is “a consummation devoutly to be wished.”

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