Martin's Must Reads: 'The Orphan Collector'
"September 28, 1918. The deadly virus stole unnoticed through the crowded cobblestone streets of Philadelphia on a sunny September day, unseen and unheard amidst the jubilant chaos of the Liberty Loan parade and patriotic marches of John Philip Sousa. More than 200,000 men, women, and children waved American flags.”
I’m Betty Martin with "Martin’s Must Reads" and those are the opening lines to Ellen Marie Wiseman’s novel The Orphan Collector. I must admit that this book was sent to me early in 2020 when I couldn’t bear to read about the tragedies of an earlier pandemic.
As the story opens German immigrant, thirteen year old Pia Lange, is living in a poor neighborhood with her mother and twin baby brothers. When her mother dies of the virus, Pia hides her brothers in a closet to go in search for food. While she’s out Pia falls ill and wakes up a week later in a hospital having miraculously survived the virus. She hurries back home to find her brothers missing and no clues as to where they went. Pia is then imprisoned in an orphanage run by heartless nuns.
Her brothers had been discovered by a neighbor, Bernice Groves, whose husband and baby both died from the virus. Bernice has a strong prejudice against all the immigrants who have moved to Philadelphia and decides to do what she can to insure that immigrant children are brought up in American households. She collects them and either takes them to an orphanage or sells them to unsuspecting parents. You’ll have to read the book yourself to find out if Pia ever finds her brothers.
If you’re looking for a book with a character who has strength and perseverance and gives you a glimpse into what life during the 1918 pandemic was like, then you must read The Orphan Collector by Ellen Marie Wiseman.