A Writers Writer – Christina Baker Kline – Orphan Train


How could I resist an opening like this…..

I believe in ghosts. They’re the ones who haunt us, the ones who have left us behind. Many times in my life I have felt them around me, observing, witnessing, when no one in the living world knew or cared what happened.

Sometimes these spirits have been more real to me than people, more real than God. They fill silence with their weight, dense, and warm, like bread dough rising under the cloth. My gram, with her kind eyes and talcum-dusted skin. My da, sober, laughing. My man, sing a tune. The bitterness and alcohol and depression are stripped away from these phantom incarnation, and they console and protect me in death as they never did in life.

I’ve come to think that’s what heaven is — a place in the memory of others where our best selves live on. 

Until I read the fine novel, The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty, I knew nothing about the orphan trains that ran regularly from the East Coast to the midwest with thousands of abandoned children. (1854-1929) One of the main characters in The Chaperone was a train rider. It is hard to imagine the rationale that left children in the hands of strangers, with no idea how they would be treated, what they would endure. Orphan Train, one of my book club selections, is an amazing piece of fiction about this subject. The opening lines above, quoted  from the prologue, are the best case I can make for this stunning work. We meet Vivian, 91 years old, who in 1929 came to Minnesota on an orphan train.  Then there is the story of teenager, Molly, that intersects with this old woman; together they teach us a great deal. Don’t miss this wonderfully written story of courage, forbearance, and love.

About Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin

Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin grew up in Evanston, IL. and is a graduate of the University of Kentucky. She is an author of two novels: The Greening of a Heart and Facing East. She lives, writes and gardens in NC. Visit her: Stephenyhoughtlin.com
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