Leah Fleming has written a narrative saga that follows the fortunes of several families over generations, also delving into the pearling industry in Scotland and America. Fresh water pearling was carried out in the fast flowing rivers of Scotland, where mussel shells were dug up from the cold waters and opened to see if they carried a pearl. The setting of the story ranges from Scotland and York, to America.
The main characters are Jem, a Scottish lad, who in 1879 helps his ailing father to dig up a mussel which contains an amazing pearl. His father is ill from the cold and damp, and says the pearl is for Jem, to further his education. Jem’s mother is approached by an unscrupulous pearl buyer, and desperate for money she shows him the pearl. Meanwhile, a visiting wealthy American, who owns a logging company, is checking out the Scottish way of floating wood down the river. His son is a daredevil and hops on a log. Jem is the only one who can save the boy’s life when he is swept away. The American’s are grateful and invite Jem to visit them in Iowa.
Not so far away in York, Margaret, or Greta, as she is known, is desperately searching for work to help her mother, sister and brother survive. She gets a servant’s job with a kind family of Quakers, and is happy there until she takes the children off to a fair. This is not the Quaker way and she is sacked. The next job she is able to secure is for a jeweller. She cleans and cooks for the kindly, elderly man, and after some time he gets her to help with minor repairs. It is here that her love of pearls is developed, as well as her knowledge of jewellery, mending and pricing, and threading of pearls begins.
Greta marries, but for the wrong reasons. Her husband has offered to support Greta and her family and in return, she helps him in his jewellery store, furthering her knowledge, and learning about retail trading. Her life is in a downhill slide now and her unloving husband takes her to America, where they are to begin again. By now it is 1885 and Greta is in New York. It is here that the trains come in to the stations with children from orphanages on board. If you needed a sturdy boy for the farm, or a strong girl for housework, they could be picked up here.
Greta meets Jem, as her husband is still connected with the pearling industry with an instant attraction occurring, but both of them are spoken for. Returning to York Greta opens a shop of her own; she has changed and become a tough, focussed woman, who knows her business inside out. She is far from the meek and servile girl, who set out to work in a jewellery store so many years before.
Leah Fleming moves seamlessly from character to character, and from country to country. The gradual development of each person and those around them is intriguing, while the historical aspect is well covered. Those were very hard times for poor people. The courage Greta shows is to be admired, and when romance is introduced, we hope that Greta can settle into a happy and satisfying niche of her own.
|Publisher||Simon & Schuster UK|
|Distributor||Simon And Schuster Australia|