Immigrants have arrived in this country for hundreds of years. For many of them, life in America was much harder than they expected. Maks’ story, set in 1893, is one of harrowing danger and a loving, caring family. In your classroom or book group, open up discussions comparing immigration then and now, as well as plotting a mystery.
Behind the story
Like millions of Americans, my forebears came from Europe, landed on Ellis Island, and went on to New York City, where they stayed. One of the places they stayed was New York City’s Lower East Side. This was a time when the city had some thirty daily newspapers that were not written in the English language. Amazingly enough, much of the tenement architecture, has remained in place. There is even an existing, wonderful Tenement Museum, where I saw and learned a great deal, and which helped me write my novel, City of Orphans, a novel about immigrant life in New York, at the end of the 19th Century. read more
Read Chapter 1, readable online and as a downloadable PDF.
Reading Group Guide from Simon & Schuster
Featured in the book, the Waldorf Astoria Hotel was famous around the world. In the story, Maks’ sister Emma is arrested in her job at the Waldorf for stealing a watch. Here are images of the building’s architecture. What a contrast to the building in which Maks’ family lives.
The tenement at 97 Orchard St. on the Lower East Side of New York City was home to thousands of immigrants at the turn of the century. It has been restored as a living history of the time of City of Orphans. Walk through a portal to the past at The Tenement Museum.
Video walkthrough of The Tenement Museum (3:25 min)
Jacob A. Riis is famous for his photographs of tenement life in 1870s New York City. Published as How the Other Half Lives, there’s an online exhibition of his work at My Modern Met.
Learn more about the Plug-Ugly gang, which began in Baltimore and extended up and down the Atlantic shore. Their name derives from the hats they wore. They were criminals, involved in American Nativist activities, meaning they were anti-immigrant and xenophobic.
Book Covers Here and Abroad
Always intriguing to study a book’s cover, looking at how the publisher and artist felt this would promote a book to the most likely readers. With City of Orphans, the title changed to red with the paperback edition. In the Catalan edition, the cover looks contemporary rather than historical.