Twelve year old German girl Elsa Schuller arrives with her family at Ellis Island in 1905, they find America confusing and things don't go as planned? Life in the tenements of New York is a shock, her once happy father Tobias is distant, her family have very little money and they don't speak English. Elsa's dream of going to school ends as it becomes very clear for them to survive everyone in the family needs to find work and quickly. Elsa and her younger sister Sonja both get jobs working in a factory weaving cloth.
Working at the factory is hard work, the hours are long, some employers started locking girls in rooms so they couldn't leave unless work targets are met, they start timing toilet breaks and the working conditions are terrible.
We have all heard about the horrible fire at one of the shirtwaist factories, so many women and girls died because they couldn't escape the fire. Elsa survives the fire, her best friend Beth dies but she leaves Elsa with a precious gift as she has taught her to read and write in English. Elsa is offered a job working in Long Island as a maid, due to being German and she's also needed to translate documents for her new boss. He imports and exports goods to and from Germany.
Her mother Nina is busy with the women's rights movement they want to reduce the working hours for women, the garment makers go on general women's strike and eventually their working conditions and hours are changed.
Elsa becomes friends with her bosses daughter Dafne, she's a flighty girl, she's spoilt, rather modern with her attitude towards her maid and treats her as an equal. This has it's benefits, but at times causes issues between the girls and Dafne is rather annoying.
Four years later, the world has changed and the threat of the World War I is looming and Elsa's life is turned upside down yet again. People of German origin begin changing their last names, their businesses are broken into and damaged. She and Dafne move back to Manhattan.
Once America enters World War I, Elsa and Dafne's relationship changes, especially when Dafne's ex fiancee Glenn is fighting in the war in France and he writes to Elsa.
I enjoyed reading: Love Of Finished Years, it's an interesting story about German migrants moving to New York, the fire in the shirtwaist factory and the strike general strike by low paid working women. How women fought for the right to vote, how women's roles changed during World War I, the effect the war had on the men fighting in the war and the women waiting at home for them. I gave the book 4 stars, I will share my review on Goodreads, Australian Amazon and Twitter.
Set against backdrop of the traumas of European immigrants settling into life in America and the horror of the first world war this story is heart wrenching and dramatic. But it is told with sensitivity and beauty. An excellent historical novel.