Ellis Island: A Novel

Ellis Island: A Novel

by Kate Kerrigan


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062071538
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/28/2011
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 319,041
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.82(d)

About the Author

Kate Kerrigan is the author of three previous novels. She lives in Ireland with her husband and their two sons.

Read an Excerpt

Ellis Island

A Novel
By Kate Kerrigan

Harper Paperbacks

Copyright © 2011 Kate Kerrigan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780062071538

Chapter One

The 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, "Wait—look." 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 louse—there 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 loving—that 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 day—twice on holy days of obligation—and 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
out—facts 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
large puddles.
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 orphan—although, 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 there—but 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 worlds—their world and
ours—and 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 stop—not
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
and honey.
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
with people.
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

Peter Quinn

“Kate Kerrigan’s Ellis Island is a standout novel that vividly brings alive the very different worlds of New York and Ireland in the 1920s. A love story shot through with a perfect sense of the period, it is a rare combination of historical enlightenment and sheer enjoyment.”

Customer Reviews

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Ellis Island 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 159 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
hshust More than 1 year ago
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.  
Two2dogs More than 1 year ago
I WOULD HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK. This is a good novel, this book kept my interest to the end.
Kitagrl More than 1 year ago
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.
bongie More than 1 year ago
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.
SuzanneMIlls More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Stop giving away the plot ! Sick of it , let others read the book !
HotPinkInk More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
With a few twists along the way, you won't be able to guess the ending!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have one word to describe this story - EXCELLENT!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
CherishD More than 1 year ago
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. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful reading from beginning to the end. I could relate a the dream I had or maybe we all had at one time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
tahoegirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. I would describe it as both a romance and a historical fiction. Ellie marries her childhood sweetheart and ends up with an unhappy life. She goes to America to make money and ends up loving it. I did not know anything about Ireland's civil war and what life was like during that time, I also liked seeing the differences in the lower middle class life in America vs. Ireland. Ellie has to choose between Ireland and her husband, and America. She is still vacilating and I was not sure where she would eventually end up until the very end. This was the best Early Reviewers book I have read.
ellasmeme on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This historical novel begins in Ireland and moves to New York in the 1920's as Ellie travels there to work as a domestic servant in order to save money for her IRA husband's much needed surgery. I personally love all things Irish and so enjoyed reading this novel. Well-written with a solid story line, if you like historical novels or the Irish, you'll enjoy this book!
Bookbets50 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I liked this book very much...but I didn't love it. Ellie is a real character and faces real dilemmas as she constantly is making choices about her own happiness and how it is defined. I enjoyed the story and felt frustrated with Ellie's choices, but somehow I wanted more. This book could have been a true saga with more detail and the fleshing out of more of the character's stories. (How did Sheila end up with her dream life, for example?? And what happened to Isabel?) The author did do a good job of describing both Ellie's life in Ireland and her life in New York, and I would recommend this book to historical fiction lovers.
bbellthom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful story set in the early 1900¿s in Ireland. Ellie Hogan grows up in a loveless family, her mother is haunted by the wrongdoing of her grandparents during the great potato famine and her father¿s only love is for the church. When Ellie¿s neighbor takes in John Hogan their orphaned nephew Ellie finally has a friend to share her life with.Ellie and John eventually marry but when John a solider for the Irish Republican Army becomes injured Ellie travels to New York City to work. Ellie¿s plan is to stay in the states for as long as it takes her to raise enough money for an operation for John. Ellie works first as a maid and then as a typists. Ellie falls in love with her life in New York and begs John to join her but he refuses to leave his homeland. After four years in America Ellie returns to Ireland. Once in Ireland she is unhappy and longs to return to her life in New York with John and leave the poverty of Ireland behind.This book is beautifully written and as a reader you want to keep reading, it never drags and it constantly holds the readers interest. At first I wasn¿t happy with Ellie¿s decision to stay in New York and not return to John but then I thought how I would feel leaving new found luxuries such as electricity, automobiles, nice clothing, and ample food for a life of poverty, no electricity, and the constant struggle to stay afloat I realized that I to would not have wanted to return to Ireland.
KC9333 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Enjoyable historical fiction novel that follows the tale of Ellie Hogan as she travels to New York to find work when tragedy strikes in Ireland. Descriptions of this new world across the ocean, and the wonderous opportunities there, make for good reading. It is easy to get caught up in this story. However, in the final third of the book, Ellie makes more life changing decisions with far reaching consequences. I found the plot wrapped up too neatly and too easliy. In addition the " moral" of this story comes through much louder than necessary. Definately an entertaining story, but one that could have been great with further development.
bookchickdi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ellie Hogan, the protagonist in Ellis Island is an unforgettable, timeless character. Though set in the 1920s, her struggle between independence and family loyalty, between a modern life in New York and a traditional life back in Ireland, is one that many women today will relate to.Two key scenes take place on Ellis Island, in the huge building where immigrants were ushered through interviews and health inspections before being allowed into the United States. Anyone who has visited the building, which is now a museum, will recognize these scenes that Kerrigan brings vividly to life as Ellie first comes to America.There is a scene where one immigrant has to undergo an eye exam with a hook that lifts the eyelid. This hook is memorably on display in the museum, and if you do there, make sure to take the audio or docent tour to get the most out of your visit.In a later scene, Ellie is waiting on the balcony looking down on the crowd to find her husband, and after standing there myself, I felt this scene was so well written. I remember wondering what it would feel like to be waiting for someone, and Kerrigan crystalizes that feeling through Ellie.Another great scene is the one where Ellie has gotten off of Ellis Island, and is walking up Broadway to her new job. Kerrigan paints such a sensual picture of the streets of New York, all of your senses are aroused by her description, and you feel that you are walking this trip along with Ellie.Ellie adjusts to life in New York, and betters herself by going to school and learning how to type. Although she misses her husband and faithfully sends him money, their letters become less frequent. Ellie likes her independence, and likes the niceties of New York (electricity, beautiful clothes, appliances and convenient foods).When a tragedy forces Ellie to go back to Ireland, she is torn. She loves her family, but she has gotten used to the finer things, and now finds the poverty of Ireland nearly unbearable. Ellie's sense of identity is confused.The end of the story is surprising to me, and I can't wait to read the next two books in the trilogy, which Kerrigan said take place in New York in the 1930s and Los Angeles in the 1940s. If you liked Colm Toibin's Brooklyn, put Ellis Island on your list.
justablondemoment on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I recieved this book through the ARC program. It was a very beautifully written story. Historical and romance lovers would find this book to be well worth the time to read. While I didn't find it a 5 star book the story and the characters I found interesting and it didn't take me long to reach the end of the book. I defintely would recommend this book but would suggest getting it through the library as I didn't find it to be a book that I would tell others ...read this at any cost. Good book but, personally, glad I didn't purchase it.