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The Orphan Train

A historical fiction, The Orphan Train is about two women from two different generations. The book is written in alternate narration style between the two protagonists who come closer as they realize their accounts have so much common. One is the teenager who is in the foster care and the other is an older lady who had been an Orphan Train rider in early 19th century. The book goes in the history of Orphan Trains between 1854 and 1929. This is relatively a less known historical fact about the US which makes the book interesting to many readers including me.

Contemporary literature has been a quite recent addition to my reading routine and mostly for the book clubs. I usually read authors who have been around and I also don’t mind re-reading a book specially when tending to reader’s block. This book did hold the interest for the most part. The ending is always a great part of any story but the way Kindle laid it out, it did spoil it a little bit. The Kindle said 85% or so and I was not mentally, or for that matter visually ready for the book to conclude. I had to re-read the last few pages and re-adjust my thinking to grasp the ending. I did not find it too abrupt as many reviewers mentioned but I also did not think it skillfully wrapped. I am writing about this book on the blog not to review its style or structure – which for the most part I found okay compared to many prevalent writing standards – but because the subject was really interesting.

There is an indirect mention of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte which if you have read, follows the same line of topic. Incidentally Jane Eyre was the book that I had read right before Orphan Train which made the reading experience of the later very interesting. Orphan Train spans over two generations and Jane Eyre adds another era to it; all in all there are three time periods that talk about orphan conditions and this all hit the point three times that I am trying to make here, which is: What does the fate of orphans depend upon- laws or human nature of the person they end up with? Comparing the orphan treatment in these different eras – Jane Eyre (late 1700s to early 1800s in London), Vivian (1920s in the US) and Molly (today in US) what I found ironic was that orphan’s destiny may be only slightly defined by the laws and regulations that are in place (or not in place); mostly and mainly it is the nature of the person who is the in charge. These heroines ware taken in at different times by life-making, trust breaking people, including but not limited to mean aunts, kind teachers, evil caretakers and all this time it did not matter what system was in place, or whether there was one in place or not. Molly is the youth of today and what we call a part of a well-placed foster care system. Vivian is the product of Orphan Trains which was a supposedly better system of its time, driven towards providing destitute children a home to eliminating beggary and other pernicious social elements. Jane was from an era when relatives took care of you if your parents pass away. Ironic- isn’t it that all these ladies from different time periods in the end are at the mercy of caretakers?

Orphan Train

Forgive me and I am not very familiar with the systems and rules when it comes to foster care but I have seen the receiving end of it. My review of the book and this subject goes beyond reading this novel. In my experience of working with low SES population I saw many a students (not all) becoming a victim of this system. Of course I have had the pleasure and luck to meet amazing caregivers, awesome foster parents but there is indubitably a huge population that is not positively impacted by the system. I am sure the laws have been able to hold caretakers accountable for things they were able to get away in the past, but can we really change the thinking? Abuse can be reported but can flat affect be reported? And for that matter, you don’t really have to be physically abusive to abuse. The system is doing its job to ensure placement and whatever it can do to follow up but sadly the psychology of human nature can be evolved only so much. Individuals have to struggle a lot when they become victims of people who profit from their fostering. Fostering is a very important decision – the thinking should be beyond the feel-good act of doing a favor. Fostering is beyond just providing the basic needs of clothing and feeding – if stimulation, love and bonding is missing from in the upbringing, balanced growth cannot be ensured and the individuals can go either way when they are older. Kuddos to parents who opt for this brave task of having a child in their home, accept, nurture and think for her future while providing a great atmosphere for emotional growth. This book brings those aspects out and for that I would highly recommend it.

Looking forward to our new book club read: A Cup of Friendship also known as The Little Coffee Shop at Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez. I will be writing about it soon!

4 thoughts on “The Orphan Train

  1. Beautiful review! I was hesitating to read it but ended up reading and loved the book for the reasons you mentioned! Thanks for sharing your views.

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  2. Loved your take on the human nature. So true, in the end systems may play some role but evolution of psychology is not easy.

    Like

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