Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Band Of Sisters by Cathy Gohlke

Inspired/Encouraged to write a book about a contemporary issues, Cathy Gohlke, took a modern day issue of slavery and prostitution and set it in a historical setting.
Maureen O'Reilly and her sister, Olivia, leave their homeland of Ireland to head to America in order to came a promise given to their father even before they were born. Maureen survives Ellis Island and is able to leave before Olivia. But Maureen finds out that the family benefactor has died, and his family won't help the O'Reilly's. So Maureen decides to live a lie in order to stay in America. When Olivia is allowed to leave Ellis Island, She doesn't know all that Maureen has done to keep both of them in America. Both Maureen and Olivia see a need to fight for the injustices they see around them, but they don't see the other fighting the same way they are and get mad with each other. Will they be able to put aside their misunderstandings to remember who they are as a family?
I loved reading this book. Gohlke did a masterful job presenting a modern issue in a historical format. I give this book 5 stars! I received this book from Tyndale for the purpose of this review.

Q&A With Cathy Gohlke
1. What motivated you to write Band of Sisters?
I’ve always been fascinated by the abolition of slavery and the civil rights
movement. But I was horrified to learn that there are more than twice as many men, women and children enslaved today than at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This book was born of a passion to end modern-day slavery, and most of all, to ask, “What can I do to help in a need so desperate?”

2. Why did you choose NYC 1910-1911 to tell this story? And how does human trafficking in that era compare to human trafficking today?
I was inspired by an article I’d read about Alma Mathews. Alma was a small but determined woman who, armed with her umbrella and a hefty douse of fury, stood against dangerous men bent on exploiting immigrant women as they entered the U.S. through Castle Gardens, in old New York City. Alma ushered young women to her home, prepared them for employment, and helped them begin a safe new life in the city. It became a full time ministry involving many—all in the early days of the settlement house movement.
But my editor suggested that I set the story later, when immigrants entered the U.S. through Ellis Island. As I researched that possibility, I found that the problem of exploitation and human trafficking had not only grown during those years, but that the strikes of NYC shirtwaist factory workers had made public the desperate need for women to make a living wage in safe circumstances. Necessary elements for the story and high drama were all a matter of public record—everything from the passing of the Mann Act to address the fear of white slavery to the Triangle Waist Factory fire.
Even though our technology, transportation, communication, etc., is different from the story’s era, many countries today are no further in providing rights and safeguards for women than the U.S. was in 1910. Some are further behind.
Many of the same ruses are used by traffickers to lure women into their snare now as they were then: better paying jobs for themselves and/or money for their families, flirtation, pretense of emotional caring and support, marriage, offers specifically for modeling jobs, offers for education, appeals for help of various kinds, plays on sympathies, etc.
In some cases, after having sex with someone they trusted, or after being drugged and forced into having sex, women or children are/were blackmailed. Fearful that their families will not believe them or will accuse them of promiscuity and reject them, they are afraid and feel compelled to sneak out and “service” men when called. Some are sold to traffickers or users by members of their own family, or by someone they trust.
Once trapped—sometimes after being unwittingly drugged and/or blackmailed— women are often transported far from their home (crossing borders to other states or countries). Held against their will through abuse, enforced poverty, lack of ID, lack of language skills, lack of visas or passports, they may simply not know who to trust or where to go for help in the country in which they find themselves. Isolation, threats to their person or their family, repeated brain washing that they are dirty, worthless,
Q&A for Band of Sisters/Gohlke 2
unwanted, unloved, and good for nothing but sex with paying customers are all tools that traffickers use to intimidate and control their victims.
Fear of what will happen if they try to escape, fear that they have ruined their lives and will have no other way to live, fear for themselves and loved ones, resulting health problems, feelings of hopelessness and a constantly reinforced sense of self- worthlessness all form formidable prisons for victims of trafficking. Even if it seems they can physically escape, they may not be able to break the emotional or mental chains that bind them.
All those things happened then, and they continue to happen to victims today.

3. What research did you do?
My research began with human trafficking today and the fight to abolish modern- day slavery through books, the internet, and through organizations and individuals that are helping in various ways—raising awareness, rescuing, restoring and healing victims, tracking down and prosecuting predators, education of men and boys re. the human rights and intrinsic worth of women, safe houses, etc., and those who fundraise to assist organizations or individuals who are already doing these things.
For historical background I watched documentaries and read (books, old newspapers, archives) about the growth of old New York, the social conditions and desperation of the poor and of immigrants in particular, the disadvantages to those who did not speak English, the unique problems of women and children—the opportunities for and difficulties of making a living wage outside of prostitution, the threats made to women and their families to coerce them into sexual service, of their economic desperation without a male provider, of their few legal rights, and of the unfair treatment women received in court. Those studies led me to the development of the sweatshops, the growth, expansion and revisions of the settlement house movement, the work of Jacob Riis in making the abject poverty of thousands known to the public.
Learning of those conditions led to a special interest in Irish immigrants—their cultural and social strengths and weaknesses, their views of family, their aptitude for and reception in different types of employment in America.
My husband and I made two trips to NYC. From there we conducted research at Ellis Island, took several tours in the Tenement Museum, and bought more research books and maps, including more on the Triangle Waist Factory fire.
Once I knew my storyline, I mapped out locations of the story and trekked through Manhattan, exploring old sites, especially between Mid-town Manhattan, through Washington Square and the surrounding NYU area (including the site of the Triangle fire), the Bowery and the Lower East Side. As I walked, photographed the city, explored, and talked with residents, the voices of my characters erupted. I gladly followed their lead.

4. Band of Sisters takes place in NYC. Do you think human trafficking is limited to large cities?
No. That is why raising awareness of the crime and education re. the methods used by traffickers is so important. Small, rural, isolated or poor communities are targets just as vulnerable as big cities. Traffickers often enter such communities with bogus offers of better jobs, modeling opportunities for young people, and offers for education. But those dreams are crushed when willing applicants are unwittingly sold as sex slaves or used for pornography, with no way to get back to their homes and families. In some cultures, once a girl has been so abused, she is no longer welcome to return to her family, thereby compounding the problem and sense of hopelessness. Education and understanding is desperately needed on all parts.

1 comment:

Cathy Gohlke said...

Thank you so much, Charity, for your review of "Band of Sisters." I'm glad you enjoyed the book and appreciate that through your sharing you, too, are helping to raise awareness of human trafficking. God bless you!