“But the man said she could come!”
A man and a woman sat on the opposite side of the table to Mimi and Estie and the Russian translator. Estie was drawing pictures on the back of a sheet of paper – the very sheet of paper that she had failed to read. It was a literacy test, and no one, including Mimi, was surprised she had failed. Estie had never been to school. Did one need to have been to school to come to the United States? No one had told her that. But it wasn’t just Estie’s lack of literacy that was the problem. Her interrogators came to the conclusion that the ‘X’ chalk mark on Estie’s shoulder was indeed correct. The Jewish Ukrainian girl was most definitely feebleminded, possibly even a moron.
“She will have to go back to Southampton,” said the man and stamped a sheet of paper with the world ‘Denied’.
“Southampton?” said Mimi, desperately trying to get her head around what was happening, wondering if something had been lost in translation. She tried again, explaining to the translator: “Southampton is where the man was who said Estie could come. And then he was on the ship. I saw him there. He said if we pay a fine she will be able to come. He said simple people had to pay more money . But he didn’t say they couldn’t come.”
The translator repeated her comments in English.
“And what man is this?” asked the male official as his female assistant took notes.
Mimi listened to the translator and replied, “Jow-ness,” hoping she had pronounced the unfamiliar name correctly.
The man behind the desk looked puzzled. “Jow-ness?” he asked, looking for confirmation from the translator. “Who is Jow-ness?”
“He— he—was the registration clerk on the Olympic,” Mimi replied in Russian, reaching across the table and poking a finger to the copy of the manifest. “He was the man who wrote that.”
The man listened to the translation, then turned on his colleague and whispered something. She whispered something back.
“I’m sorry, Miz Yazierska. But there is no way we can let your sister into the United States. She will have to go home. You, on the other hand, are free to join the queue again in the registration hall.” He cocked his head toward the door.
Mimi listened to the translation then swallowed hard. She looked at her sister, who was much calmer now that she had been to the toilet. The girl was drawing a childish picture and humming a little tune.
“Please, sir,” whispered Mimi in English, trying to hold back the tears. “Please ask for Mr Jowness.”
The man’s face softened. “I’m sorry, Miz, I cannot do that. Whatever this Mr Jowness told you was incorrect. I shall pass on the information to the captain of the Olympic – and if one of his crew was taking bribes he must deal with it – but it does not change the fact that your sister cannot enter the United States. It’s up to you whether you stay or go.”
Tears streamed down Mimi’s face as the translator repeated the words in Russian. Estie stopped drawing and looked at her sister, then reached out one hand and touched a damp cheek. “Mimi sad? Why Mimi sad?”
“I’m sorry, Miz,” said the man again, clearing his throat. “Rules are rules.”
This is the third in the Poppy Denby mystery series, but it reads perfectly even on its own, since the author takes a great care in filling in the readers with every information necessary from the previous books. In fact, the first half of the book sounds more as an evolution of the overarching story than a story in itself. But then, the characters are nice and the setting is good. Poppy is a spunky main character, a woman doing a man’s job in a men’s world: a journalist. And while her normal column might not be all that exciting, she has an instinct for sensational news and often finds herself in difficult situations. She’s already uncovered a couple of murders, as she will again in this adventure.
There are many threads in this story and only after the midpoint you can see they all converge on one mystery. Some of them, though, end in lose threads, so in a way I got the impression they where there just to beef up the mystery but weren’t really necessary. It is always a shame when this happens because I feel kind of cheated. But the mystery in itself – although maybe a little too convoluted – is indeed interesting. The story is set in the late 1920s, but the author explores an issue that is very relevant to us today: immigration and the way immigrants are treated.
There an overabundance of diversity in the book. Not that I have anything against it – on the contrary – but between the Jewish characters, Poppy’s boss who’s a dwarf, Poppy’s aunt who’s a lesbian on a wheelchair, eugenetics, suffragettes, amputated people and a few other ideas thrown in, I found the ensemble a little too much to be realistic. But aside from this, I found all the characters very interesting and relatable, so I won’t complain too much.
It’s a good story, fun and easy to read.
In post is part of the Thursday Quotables meme. If you want to discover more about this meme and maybe take part in it, head over to Bookshelf Fantasies
Hi Sarah – if I was short of reading material – then I’d read it … as you’ve given a great idea about the book … but I’ll bear it in mind – cheers Hilary
You’re welcome, Hilary. It’s a fun summer read 🙂
JOHN T. SHEA
‘Miz’ sounds like the modern ‘Ms’ but no doubt signifies something else. Anyway, a moving snippet. The reference to the Titanic’s sister ship Olympic is appropriate, given your last post.
The parts in Ellis Island are very well done. I’ve read other such episodes in other novels, but this one sound smore authoentic and detailed then most.
Hmm….I do like the setting and context. My own personal preferences is to have all of the ‘loose ends’ tied up, but it does sound interesting. Glad you found things to like about it, Sarah.
It is indeed frustrating when loose ends remain at the end of the novel, especially when – like in this case – it doesn’t seem planned, but it’s more like the author didn’t know what to do with them after the final reveal.