Longing for Home
by Lisa M. Wayman

Koehlerbooks, 2016. ISBN 978-1-633-93235-7.
Reviewed by Ann McCauley
Posted on 03/17/2017

Fiction: Historical

Longing for Home is a well-researched historical debut novel by Lisa M. Wayman. The story begins on May 26,1892 when seventeen year old Irena Marija Preseren, a virgin Slovenian from Austria, arrives at Ellis Island, after a twenty day voyage across the Atlantic in steerage. Her father had immigrated several years earlier, and arranges a marriage for her with a hard working Slovenian man. Her fiancé works for her father at his restaurant in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Irena can read, write, and do simple arithmetic. She also speaks three languages: Slovenian, German and English. Traveling with distant relatives from Austria, they stay with other relatives in Cleveland for a couple of days.

There she is introduced to her fiancé and married on the same day. Their honeymoon is spent traveling by train to Wyoming. West of Chicago, their train derails in a deadly accident that leaves Irena a seventeen year old widow, though no longer a virgin.

Homesickness is threaded throughout the story, as was the new immigrants desire to re-create the culture, and customs they'd left behind in the old country. When business thrives, the immigrants did also. But when business slows, there is no safety net.

Irena and her second husband, Seamus, an Irish widower, end up living in a Chicago tenement apartment house. When work slows, alcoholism and domestic abuse are rampant, as well as contagious diseases, with severe hunger a constant companion. Their neighbors in the tenement are poor immigrants from all over Europe. The tenements are depicted accurately (I have visited the Tenement Museum in NYC); they offered shelter from the elements though not a feeling of home. The plot includes rape, kidnapping, gunfights, cattle wars, hangings, a cholera epidemic and much more.

Irena and Seamus do not have a child of their own for several years after their marriage. Their natural love of children leads them to help their neighbor's neglected children and help them the best they could, sharing their food, time and talents. Later when they finally leave the city they had grown to respect but still dislike, they took with them an acceptance of other cultures and customs besides those that are familiar to them. Their way of saying good-by to Chicago was to visit the Columbian Exposition World's Fair of 1892. Seamus said, "...even though we are poor we deserve some joy."

The second part of the book takes place in Durango, Colorado. It is here the characters mature and develop the depth that stays with the reader long after reading. They buy a run-down cabin with good structural bones; it is on the outskirts of the town. They develop a sense of family with their neighbors; it is like a small United Nations village with so many different countries of origin represented on their street. The work together and thrive; it is an American melting pot. Meanwhile her father and her half-sisters lose their restaurant, and suffer financial difficulties as they move with the Slovenian community to another part of the west, no more Americanized than when they first immigrated. I believe the main point of Longing for Home—to truly find a home, it is necessary for immigrants to let go of their pasts and blend into their new lives in America.

Lisa M. Wayman, a Ph.D. nurse who has published multiple works of nonfiction, including chapters in Creativity and Madness: Psychological Studies of Art and Artists (Vol 2) and The art of grief: The use of expressive arts in a grief support group. Lisa's nonfiction work uses prose, poetry and visual art to explore resilience in the context of the death of her 12-year-old son. Lisa employed her twenty years of nursing experience and her personal experience of resilience to develop her characters in her first work of fiction, Longing for Home. Visit her website.

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