When We Were Strangers
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When We Were Strangers

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  3,014 ratings  ·  396 reviews
"If you leave Opi, you'll die with strangers," Irma Vitale's mother always warned.

Even after her beloved mother's passing, 20-year-old Irma longs to stay in her Abruzzo mountain village, plying her needle. But too poor and plain to marry and subject to growing danger in her own home, she risks rough passage to America and workhouse servitude to achieve her dream of making...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published January 25th 2011 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published 2011)
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3.5 Stars

When we were Strangers is an inspiring story of strength, determination and courage of a young Italian Woman who travels across the world in 1880s to better her life.

Pamela Schoenewaldt’s debut novel tells the story of the lonely and eventful journey of Irma, a young Italian woman possessed of a quiet inner strength as she ventures alone into a wide, unknown world of the 1880s America. Irma begins her life in the remote Italian mountain village of Opi. Her ancestors found only misfortu...more
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Joy H.
Added 1/30/12.
Edit added 2/1/12 - My comment at my group:
I'm currently reading a good book: When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt. It's a selection of our Sr Cit book club and is VERY interesting, almost compelling. It's about a young Italian girl who emigrates to America years ago from a small town in Italy. The descriptions of her experiences are so well-written, touching and informative as well.

Edit added 2/11/12:
I enjo...more
Loved this book! The way Irma's homeland is within her heart and soul really spoke to me. As someone who has spent the better part of two years being incredibly homesick, I could really relate to Irma's longing for home, and yet pushing on, knowing she was making a better life for herself. I have been living this same thing, although I have access to all of the modern conveniences that allow me to keep in daily contact with those I left behind. I would have never been strong enough to travel so...more
Ergh, just finished. In short summation, this was disingenuous, overtly derivative, horribly cliched, laughable, and all round just b-grade. Uh, so yeah, I wasn't a fan!?!! The idea of the story piqued my interest, and it was certainly an easy read which got me into it - but that ease soon became a case of 'let's state the bleeding obvious'. I prefer an author who presumes at least a hint of intelligence in her reader, sheesh!

The inconsistent pace of the story really bothered me. There were tim...more
"Even an uprooted tree could find a scoop of welcoming earth." Irma was from a small village in Italy. After her bereaved father came home drunk, he tried to make a pass at his daughter. Irma knew she did not have a safe place to live in her village any more, particularly with the old-fashioned mores of her village. She decided to go to America, the land of opportunity, where her brother had gone before her. Irma became the classic immigrant "sewer" and "embroiderer" in Cleveland. There were dan...more
Lydia Presley
When We Were Strangers blew me away.

I mean, it's about time I read a b0ok in 2011 that gripped me as much as this book did and honestly, the binding I got for the Advanced Copy was rough to read, the words were half-faded and still, I didn't mind at all. Not a single bit. Because the story was that powerful.

Irma is a woman with strength, character, and resolve, yet also I found in her innocence, fear, and a sense of loneliness. This character in a story exhibited every trait that I would strive...more
Whenever snow or rain storms keep me indoors, my favorite thing to do is snuggle up in front of the fire place with a good book. Yesterday, I picked up When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt, and was literally transported to the 1880’s. This beautifully written and remarkable story about a young Italian girl’s journey from her village in Opi, Italy to America, was both riveting and memorable. Schoenewaldt’s exquisite prose carves out a heartfelt tale about determination and the will to su...more
I wish I could give this book 6 stars. Irma is a character that will live forever in me. She left Opi, a small mountain Italian town to America, alone in hopes of finding her brother. Along the way mostly good men helped her but a few tried to hurt her. Her journey to Naples, across the Atlantic, to Cleveland, Chicago and San Francisco is a spiritual journey to find goodness and purpose. This book kept me reading late into the night because Irma is us, everywomen, scarred but true, afraid, coura...more
I admire how the author moved Irma through events rapidly and seamlessly. And I cared about Irma very much. However, so many bad things happened to her in the beginning and middle sections, I was beginning to panic anytime she left the boarding house. The poor girl couldn't even go for a walk! This was a little too traumatic for me, but I still enjoyed the story and appreciated the un-cliche ending. Two thumbs up to the character of Molly!
Highly recommended. Beautifully written historical novel about an Italian immigrant woman who comes to America alone and makes her own future through experiences in Cleveland, then Chicago, and finally San Francisco.

This author has written short stories. This novel, her first, grew out of a short story about the main character. The writing is just wonderful! (A quote on the front cover of the paperback from another author reads: "I long for this kind of lovely prose. A cut above.") Here is a br...more
It was ok, just ok. Seems like I've read a lot of immigrant stories (1800s) lately. And while I'm always amazed at the grit and courage of immigrants to this new country, this book didn't keep me interested. I did finish it, but found it almost predictable toward the end.

Irma, our heroine, comes penniless, meets her share of cruel people and is the victim of several scams and crimes. She uses her skill as a seamstress to earn her way, and then through a series of events (I won't give away the pl...more
Quite simply, I loved this book! It's the story of a young woman who makes the difficult decision to immigrate to America on her own, then works hard to find her place in her new country. Irma is a strong woman to face all the challenges that she encounters and she's full of hope for a better future, yet she is also shockingly naive about the dangers she faces. Her voice is clear and simple and very real, and I appreciated how she struggled with some terrible moral decisions. My biggest complain...more
this story of an immigrant girl in the late 1870s-80s is historical fiction and a glorious example of same. I was so involved in the story I barely realized the historical events occurring. Irma grabs you and takes you with her on an exciting journey. Don't know how I would have fared had I had to come to this country and make a life for myself. Very poignant and sweet, but there's not so sweet also. I am becoming a fan of Pamela Schoenwaldt and recommend her writing.
In this story, Irma Vitale, immigrates to America for the chance of a better life. Her life in the small village of Opi has nothing for her; no husband prospects, her father is a drunk, her aunt is blind, her mother died and her brother left to Cleveland. So begins her journey. While traveling to America, Irma is forced to face many fears as she encounters obstacles that stand in her way. Struggles that all immigrants face: learning English, finding work, finding people to call friends, being fa...more
Probably a 4.5 if I could rate it such. I am not a huge Historical Fiction reader, primarily because I don't like it when it is done poorly and too often it is done poorly. That was certainly not the case here. Pamela Schoenewaldt does an amazing job of inserting historical facts and nuances into her novel. When We Were Strangers spans the 1860's/1870's and follows the life of the main character Irma from Italy to America (through New York, Cleveland, Chicago and San Fransisco). I really had to...more
Edward Sullivan
Excellent hsitorical ficition about a young woman's immigration journey from a small village in Italy to Chicago in the late 1800s. Vivid sense of time and place, memorable charcaters, and compelling story.
Easy read, well researched historical novel, nice prose depicting the era. The characters are one dimensional and the plot is not convincing. Good book for a long flight over the Atlantic .....
Kimberly Ann
Can that many bad things happen to one person? I did feel like there was a good theme of forgiveness/atonement? I don't know if I have that right but it was ok.
Trisha Klowak
Born and raised in a remote mountain village, 20-year-old Irma struggles with the lose of her mother and her life at home. Too plain and poor to marry, she is left with no other option that to immigrate to America and work as a dress-maker. Through Irma's journey, she meets people just like her struggling to make it in their new home. By chance, she learns that her gift with needlework will lead her on another path - volunteering at a free-clinic and eventually traveling to San Francisco to purs...more
A little too contrived...EVERYTHING happens to her!!
Engaging historical fiction.
I had just finished Brooklyn and moved on to this book. So, I read two immigration books with strong female characters in the same week. I really enjoyed them both. I think that Irma in this book takes a far greater leap to America coming from a very small uneducated Italian town. I really enjoyed the detail that the writer provided of the actual living conditions and income of the time period of the book. Also, the fact that the story was not all niceties, that really horrible things were occur...more
Blaine DeSantis
I So Wanted to Like This Book,

But it just did not happen for me. I rarely like to criticize authors, but this book, for me, was nothing like the rave reviews I read. Maybe because my father and grandparents came from the Le Marche region of Italy and I was hoping for a better story of the Italian immigration experience, but on the whole this book was a chore for me to read and finish. I felt the chapters were overly long, extremely slow moving and the main character made every wrong decision fo...more
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This is one of those rare, captivating books that worked a perfect magic for me. Irma is a character with depth and heart I could relate to, and her story sparks and blazes to life on the pages. I loved every page - there's not a dull moment or unrelated babble thrown in for no good reason. It was fascinating to travel along from Opi, Italy, through all of Irma's long journey to America (arriving on the ship in New York and making the long trek first to Cleveland, where Irma gets sewing practice...more
“Opi was mine, but after my mother died, I grew anxious. If I didn’t wed soon, how could I live? It was not for love that poor girls sought husbands. We yearned for daily bread and a tight roof, firewood in winter and with luck a man who wouldn’t beat us, who would talk with us in the long evenings and comfort us when children died. We hoped, above all, for a man who was healthy and did not drink, who worked each day and helped us to bear the hunger years.”

When We Were Strangers begins in the A...more
"There is so much to be learned from being strangers together..."

A moving, inspiring tale of a young Italian immigrant and her journey to find a better life in America. Unwed, deemed too plain and too poor for a proper marriage in her small Italian village of Opi, Irma Vitale risks her life to pursue the dangerous, rough ship voyage to America. Irma quickly learns that the perilous ocean crossing was only the first of many challenges she would face as a young woman in a completely foreign place....more
"If you leave Opi you'll die with strangers," said her mother to Irma Vitale. Yet she leaves Opi, not when her brother does, but later upon the advice of Father Anselmo and Zia Carmela, her aunt. Afraid to go and afraid to stay after her father made sexual advances, Irma takes the dowry her father gives her and gold from Zia and begins her trip to America.

For a naive peasant girl, the trip holds many experiences. She is robbed, losing the gold, and what little she has, but she gets to Cleveland...more
Mary Gramlich
WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS written by Pamela Schonwewaldt
January 2011 - HarperCollins Publishers – Trade Paperback, 336 pages

Where we came from makes us who we are and what we become.

Irma Vitale started life out in the poor, desolate town of Opi, Italy. She dreamed of better things and a more advanced life than the one she was leading. He journey took her alone to America in the times of Lincoln’s reformation. Irma like the country she now lived in would venture forward and Irma believed she too cou...more
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World Travel thro...: July 2014: When We Were Strangers 2 3 Jun 27, 2014 10:23AM  
Reading with Criticism Held in your Mind 1 4 May 18, 2014 10:13AM  
Bookworm Bitches : March 2012: When We Were Strangers 48 175 Apr 03, 2012 12:44AM  
Bookworm Bitches : When We Were Strangers: Playlist 1 21 Mar 24, 2012 07:10PM  
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Pamela Schoenewaldt lived for ten years in a small town outside Naples, Italy. Her short stories have appeared in literary magazines in England, France, Italy and the United States. Her play, “Espresso con mia madre” (Espresso with my mother) was performed at Teatro Cilea in Naples. She taught writing for the University of Maryland, European Division and the University of Tennessee and now lives i...more
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