GENEVA, SWITZERLAND / BOOK MY PLACE – Christina Baker Kline‘s Orphan Train is a very disturbing and moving novel based on the real experience of children in the USA in the last half of the nineteenth and early years of the twentieth century. Thousands of abandoned or orphan children in New York were taken by well-meaning organisations on the orphan trains to the Mid-West and given to couples who desired a child, to farmers who required labourers or, like Niamh in the story, to couples who almost starved them and who exploited the work they could provide.
Niamh is from a feckless Irish tenement family and believes she has lost them all in a fire. We meet her, now named Vivian, when she is 91 and supporting Molly, a resentful 17 year-old girl in foster care who has to perform community service for fifty hours, having stolen a novel from a library.
Vivian’s record of her past is stored in trunks in her attic, and as Molly works her way through them, a bond develops between the two ‘orphans’. Molly is able to break out of the cocoon of resentment that she surrounds herself with and, with her skills on-line, to help Vivian bring back to life some of the ghosts from her past.
This was compulsive and very moving story-telling.