Ellis Islandby Kate Kerrigan
“A standout novel….A rare combination of historical enlightenment and sheer enjoyment.”
—Peter Quinn, author of The Man Who Never Returned
Already a hit in the United Kingdom, Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan is both a poignant love story and a lyrical, evocative depiction of the immigrant experience in early 20th century/em>/em>
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“A standout novel….A rare combination of historical enlightenment and sheer enjoyment.”
—Peter Quinn, author of The Man Who Never Returned
Already a hit in the United Kingdom, Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan is both a poignant love story and a lyrical, evocative depiction of the immigrant experience in early 20th century America. Set in the 1920s, Kerrigan’s novel tells of a young Irish woman who must choose between her new life in New York City and her husband back home in Ireland, brilliantly capturing these two vastly different worlds in the process. Readers of historical fiction, as well as fans of the novels of Frank Delany and other Irish themed works, will adore their time spent on Ellis Island.
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Read an Excerpt
Ellis IslandA Novel
By Kate Kerrigan
Harper PaperbacksCopyright © 2011 Kate Kerrigan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe first time I fell in love with John, I was eight and he was
One day, Maidy Hogan called down to the house with a
basket of duck eggs and asked my mother if I could play with
her nephew. His parents had both died of TB and he was sad
and lonely, she said. But for his aunt coming to ask for me in
the way she did, my mother would never have let me out to play
with him. My mother didn't approve of boys, or playing, or of
very much at all outside of cleaning the house and protecting
our privacy. "We like to keep ourselves to ourselves," was what
she always said. She didn't like us to mix with the neighbors,
and yet she was concerned that our house was always spotless
for their benefit. Perhaps the fact that she made an exception for
John Hogan made him special to me from the first.
John called for me later that day. He was tall for his age, with
bright blue eyes and hair that curled around his ears. He didn't
look lonely to me. He seemed confident and looked me square
in the eye, smiling. We went off together, walking and not talking
at all, until we reached the oak tree behind Mutty Munnelly's
field. Before I could get the words out to challenge him,
John was a quarter of the way up the oak, sitting astride its
thick, outstretched arm. I was impressed, but angry that he had
left me standing there. I was about to turn and walk off when
he called, "Waitlook." He ducked suddenly as a fat blue tit
swooped past his face, then took a white cotton handkerchief
out of his trouser pocket and inserted his hand into a small hole
in the trunk. He carried the fledgling down to me, descending
the tree awkwardly with his one free hand. "It's hungry,"
he said, carefully parting the white cotton to reveal the frantic
baby blue tit. "We could feed it a lousethere should be some
under that stone."
I hated insects, but I wanted to feed the blue tit, and I wanted
to impress him. So I kicked back the rock, picked up a woodlouse
between my thumb and forefinger and carefully placed
it into the bird's open, hungry beak. As it swallowed back, I
touched the top of its little head with my finger and felt how
small and soft and precious it was. I looked at John and my
heart flooded through. It was the first time I remember sharing
love with somebody.
"I'll put her home," he said, and climbed back up the tree.
My parents were never lovingthat is, not toward me.
My mother was from a shopkeeper's family who were largely
deceased. Her grandparents had survived the famine years
through holding on to what they had while their neighbors
starved. They were hated in the locality, and her father had lost
the business because of his own father's sins. My mother bore
the scars of her family history in her acute privacy and
unwillingness to mix with anybody, not even her own child.
My father at least loved the Church. He had failed the priesthood
and been sent home from Maynooth College. Nobody
ever knew why, but it was certainly not that he had disgraced
himself in any particular way. It seemed he was just not considered
devout enough. He had made the mistake of thinking that
God had been calling him, when in fact He hadn't. My father
was fond of saying that it was his decision. That he had chosen
a life in the civil service over life as a priest, yet he went to
Mass every daytwice on holy days of obligationand took as
many meals in Father Mac's house discussing parish business as
he did in his own. Whenever he was asked, my father would say
that it had been a difficult decision to make, but that marriage
and children were his vocation. Yet he and my mother slept
separately and had only one child. My father's room was as austere
as a monk's, with a huge crucifix over the bed. My mother
and I shared a bed in another room, and yet I could never say
that I felt close to my mother or knew her especially well. We
slept with dignified respect for each other's privacy, arranging
ourselves back to back, silently, never touching.
Maidy and Paud Hogan were in their late sixties when John
came to live with them. They had never had any children of
their own and treated this young orphan as if he were their son.
Maidy was a generously built and warmhearted woman, well
known in our town land as she had delivered half of the children
in the area. Even though she wasn't trained, Doctor Bourke
recognized her as a midwife and nurse and consulted her on
matters of childbirth and nutrition. Paud Hogan was a quiet
man, a hardworking small farmer. He was not schooled, but he
knew by its Latin name every plant and flower you could point
outfacts learned from the Encyclopaedia of Nature, which
he kept high on the mantel over the fireplace. John's father had
been Paud's beloved younger brother Andrew. When Andrew
died and his wife, Niamh, was tragically taken six months later,
Paud closed up his brother's house and took John in straight-
John knew how to do everything. The Hogans were old, and
they wanted to be certain he would be able to fend for himself
after they were gone. So they taught their charge how to
grow vegetables, cook a decent meal, and know one end of a cow
from the other. John was an easy child to love. Andrew and
Niamh Hogan had showered their only son with affection,
before turning him serious and dutiful with their early, tragic
deaths. I knew John's story before I met him. Everyone knew
everything about everyone in our town land. Aughnamallagh
numbered less than one hundred people scattered in houses
across miles and miles of identical fields bordered with scrappy
hedgerows. The monotony of our fl at landscape was broken in
places by shallow hills and lakes, which were little more than
My parents' house was on the edge of the village, just three
miles from the town of Kilmoy. My father was an important
man, a civil servant working for the British government. And we
should have been living in a grand stone house in the town itself,
where he would not have to walk for an hour each way and my
mother could get turf delivered directly to the back door, and
not have to muddy her boots walking to the stack herself.
However, the house they had given us was outside the town, and as
my father was apt to say on the rare occasions my mother questioned
him, "Who are we to argue with the Great British Government?
It is our duty as citizens to be governed by them as we
are by God." Even though my parents kept us deliberately apart
from our neighbors, news of one another was unavoidable. It
carried across the church grounds in hushed tones and sideways
glances after Mass, across the still air of the grocery shop, in the
sucking of teeth and clicking of tongues when someone's name
was mentioned. My mother's ear was sharply attuned to secondhand
scandal, for the very reason that she was too distant from
our neighbors to receive it firsthand. So I had heard my parents
talk about John as a pitiful orphanalthough, as I got to know
him, John's life seemed anything but pitiful to me.
That first summer, my mother was taken up nursing an elderly
aunt in the village and so it suited her for me to spend my
days with the Hogans and their nephew. My mother told me I
had to be kind to John because the Lord had taken both his parents
from him. She saw that she was doing the Hogans a favor
by allowing me to keep their orphan nephew company.
John called for me each morning and we went exploring.
Through his eyes, the ordinary fields between our houses
became a wild, exciting playground. John turned grass into
Arabian Desert sand, and ordinary muddy ditches into raging
rivers we had to conquer.
"Slip at your peril," he would say, as my small feet walked
comfortably across a narrow fallen tree. "These waters are
infested with sharks!"
He knew every animal, noticed their presence in shaking
leaves. "Rabbit!" he called on our second or third day out
together and I chased after him into the boundary bushes. John
foraged around and pulled aside clumps of leaves to reveal the
smooth, dark burrow entrance. I sat firmly down on a large
stone and insisted that we wait there for a fluffy ball to come
out. "It won't come. It's afraid of us," said John, peering down
into the tunnel. "There are probably hundreds, thousands of
them down therebut they won't come out."
I imagined the ground beneath us alive with busy, burrowing
rabbits, frantically hopping over one another, panicking about
John and me. The idea of the two of us sitting quietly in the
still day with all this mad activity going on underground made
me laugh. It was as if there were two worldstheir world and
oursand I liked that. "If it came out now, I'd only want to
kiss and cuddle it," I said.
John looked embarrassed; he picked up a stick and sliced the
air with it. "I'd chop its head off and skin it and cook it into
a stew." I started to cry. Once I started, I couldn't stopnot
because of the rabbit any more, but because I was embarrassed
to be crying in front of John and I was afraid that he wouldn't
like me; that I would ruin everything. "I'm joking," he said, "I
wouldn't ever do that to a rabbit, Ellie, sure I wouldn't, stop
crying now, Ellie, don't cry." I did stop, but I remember thinking
how boys were different from us, and that I should be more
careful how I carried on if I wanted us to stay friends.
When the sun was directly above us in the sky, we ran over to
his house, where Maidy had our dinner waiting for us.
I loved eating in that house. My own mother was frugal with
food, not for lack of money, but because she had no fondness for
it. My father ate in the presbytery in town in the middle of the
day and she felt there was no need to go to trouble for me alone.
Her meals were meager, modest portions organized in shallow
piles that never touched one another and made the plates look
huge. In contrast, Maidy Hogan shoveled piping hot, sloppy
stews onto our plates until thick, brown gravy spilled over the
edges of them onto the table. There was never any room left for
the potatoes, so they went straight onto the scrubbed wooden
tabletop where we piled them with butter, often still watery with
milk from the churn, then tore them apart and ate them with our
hands. Afterward we'd have apple tart, or soda cake with butter
Maidy was as round as her cooking was good, and Paud was
wiry and still strong at sixty. He worked hard to provide food
for her, and she made sure that the meal she prepared with it
was worth the work. I ate like a savage at that long, wooden
table. I ate until I thought I would burst inside out, until I could
barely move and would have to sit teasing ants with a stick on
the front step, waiting for my stomach to settle. The first time
I ate with them, Maidy asked, "Does your mother not feed you
at all?" I stopped eating, blushing at my greed, my spoon still
poised. She patted my head as apology, encouraged me to con
continue and never said anything again.
John always cleared the table and cleaned up after dinner;
that was his job, wiping the grease and crumbs from the table
and sweeping the floor beneath it, then washing the four plates
in a bucket of water warmed on the fire and polishing them dry
before placing them carefully back in the cupboard. I was never
allowed to help. The Hogans made me a part of their family,
yet they treated me like a treasured guest always. They loved me
like a daughter, but they never overstepped the mark and made
me into one. They had a talent for knowing the right way to be
Late in the afternoon, John would bring me back to my own
house. Although I was still full of Maidy's food, I ate a silent meal
with my parents. In the gray twilight then we would kneel and say
the rosary. The coldness of my father's praying voice settled on me
as a vague fear. An ache for life burned in my stomach.
Excerpted from Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan Copyright © 2011 by Kate Kerrigan. Excerpted by permission of Harper Paperbacks. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
Meet the Author
Kate Kerrigan is the author of three previous novels. She lives in Ireland with her husband and their two sons.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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A review means to tell us if you liked the book or not--if it had a good plot, the characters were likable and the story flowed. A review is not a regurgitation of the story in your words. B&N so graciously and eloquently provides an overview, you don't have to. Don't ruin the book for others. Start a blog or a personal journal if you absolutely feel the need to paraphrase the story. Thank you. 3 out of 5 stars.
Wanted to read this book, but AngieJG totally spoiled the plot!!! People, a review is to give your opinion of the story, NOT give away the ending. If you are interested in this book, be aware that it got very good reviews, but don't bother to read them unless you want the ending given away.
I WOULD HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK. This is a good novel, this book kept my interest to the end.
First of all, its really unfair to leave less than five stars just because you're complaining about other reviewers. The star rating is so that others can see at a glance if the book is worth reading. Which...it absolutely IS worth reading. I read a ton of books and I want to say that the character development in this book was VERY well done. The storyline was unique, the plot well-thought out, and most of the book seemed realistic enough. I love how the descriptions not only did a great job comparing poverty-stricken Ireland with bustling New York City, but the descriptions also worked to develop the personalities of the main character, and were not tiresome to read. I could go on, but I just want to say that this book is WELL worth the read. It stayed with me for several days after I finished reading it, and now I'm stuck trying to figure out what I want to read next. Totally the sign of a well-written book. I would absolutely read other books from this author.
A great summer read that will hold your interest. Ellie's character just pulls you in and this story tell alot about her and her life plus her family and the people she comes in contact with that will mold her. I couldn't put this book down. You sure don't have to be Irish to read it.
Great read! I was gravitated towards it because of my own grandmother's journey from Cork Island to NYC/Ellis Island at the age of 21 in 1921 with just a girlfriend. I could not put this book down! Kate Kerrigan writes with such clarity and simplicity that you actually feel what is might be like for someone of that time period to have made this journey with the hopes of a better life or with the hope of making money to send back home to Ireland. How difficult it must have been for so many to have left loved ones behind, and then actually realized that America had so much promise for them, more than they had possibly imagined! IWonderful, wonderful! I highly recommend this book.
Stop giving away the plot ! Sick of it , let others read the book !
Yes thank you AngieJG for spoiling the end of this book. Please all you spolier out there PLEASE refer to the Review Guidelines where I found this- Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others. So I think if people are being spoilers we can flag the post.
With a few twists along the way, you won't be able to guess the ending!
I have one word to describe this story - EXCELLENT!
Bn please do something to these plot spoilers who ruin the books by give away entire storylines, line the some who give away endinfs. Fine these ppl, ban them, do something, i am sick of them.
It was a good book but it didnt turn out the way I had envisioned when reading it. Not something I would call a favorite or read multiple times.
Enjoyed the story, but didn't like Ellie very much. Looked for the next in the series but won't be putting that much money into a story I can take or leave.
I wanted so much to love this book. My heritage is Irish and it did teach me what Free Irish means on my Great Grandparents US census reports. But the characters just did not grab you. They were not luke warm - I kept wanting to feel their emotions, or understand them but they were like carboard characters. Sorry, otherwise the storyline would have been fantastic - but it misses the mark by a long shot.
Wonderful reading from beginning to the end. I could relate a the dream I had or maybe we all had at one time.
The main character is personable and her life is hard to imagine, compared to the present. The characters are drawn well and all interesting in their way. The book gives an insight into the Irish "troubles" and how people lived during that time period, both in Ireland and in New York.
Thoroughly enjoyed this slice of 1900s Irish and American immigrant life. The book gave me a glimpse of what it was like in New York City when my own great-grandparents arrived and began their new lives there. The author kept my interset so that I was loathe to do anything else but read!
How sad that people leave a condensed version of the book in their reviews. It spoils it for new readers. I gave the book five stars because I think I would have enjoyed it but not sure i will read it now.
Great story. It did jump around and get confusing at times but all in all it was a pretty good book.
Every once in a while you come across a book that you just can't put down. This was one of them. The characters are so well written and the plot was interesting and kept you totally involved until the end. A great depiction of Ireland and New York City in the 1920's.