This month’s Between the Lines book was a wonderful story of perseverance and tragedy in a time when orphans could be shipped out to different families as needed.
Orphan Train was well written, and even though it goes from the past to present day, it does so effortlessly. The story starts with a young orphan Niamh who lives in New York and gets shipped onto an train for orphans to find a better home. While there, she meets Dutchy and they cultivate a very strange friendship.
But like most friendships, theirs is shortlived, and both go their separate ways. Niamh becomes Dorothy when a young couple adopts her in the Midwest. After the Depression hits, she is shipped to another family who live in a shack and have more children than they know what to do with. Strange circumstances lead Dorothy to run away and seek refuge with her one teacher at her boarding house. There her life finally begins to change.
Now, let’s begin the discussion questions:
1. On the surface, Vivian’s and Molly’s lives couldn’t be more different. In what ways are their stories similar?
Vivian is wealthy 90-year old woman who lives in a lovely mansion in Maine. Molly is an orphan who is struggling to figure out what her life is going to be like and to find her purpose. Their stories are similar because they are both orphans. They both lost their families tragically (even though Molly’s mother lives, she is in no state to take care of her) and they both learned to make the most out of their lives. Molly still needs to learn how to do that, but I think meeting Vivian was one of the best things she could have done for herself.
2. What role does Vivian’s grandmother play in her life? How does the reader’s perception of her shift as the story unfolds?
What bothered me most about her grandmother was that she had a clear agenda. She didn’t want to see her son drink his family into ruin, so she decided to tell them how great America was so that they would go there. She didn’t seem to want to visit the family once they moved, either. As the story went on, I just got so frustrated with her and her decisions. She knew what was happening with the marriage and the drinking, and yet, she didn’t really do anything about it.
3. Vivian’s name changes several times over the course of the novel: from Niamh Power to Dorothy Nielsen to Vivian Daly. How are these changes significant for her? How does each name represent a different phase of her life?
Each time Vivian’s name changes, her identity changes as well. When she is Niamh Power, she still has a family to look after and her Irish heritage to remind her of her life. While her parents are less than perfect (her father’s drinking doesn’t help the families destitution at all), they are still alive and well. When her name changes to Dorothy, this represents her life as an orphan living with someone else’s family. She doesn’t have a true identity during this time and never really accepts her new name. When she becomes Vivian, this signifies a turning point in her life. She is finally with a wonderful family who grow to love her and she adopts the name of their beloved daughter who they lost too soon.
4. When Vivian and Dutchy are reunited, Vivian remarks, “However hard I try, I will always feel alien and strange. And now I’ve stumbled on a fellow outsider, one who speaks my language without saying a word.” How is this also true for her friendship with Molly?
I think her and Molly have an understanding, knowing that they are both orphans making the most of their situations. I think that Molly especially learns this lesson from Vivian as they go through her attic. Molly helps Vivian find her long lost sister’s family, and you can’t put a price on that connection.