The Orphan Collector

How about this book? Does it interest you? Maybe you’ve read it already. If so, let us know what you thought about it! Because I’m old enough to remember the impact of polio before there was a vaccine (two of the boys in my neighborhood were stricken), I’m not sure I want to revisit this topic, especially since we’ve just been through a modern-day pandemic. On the other hand, history is a great teacher and often helps broaden my perspective, while allowing me to cancel out all the current noise and notions that have a tendency to be politically motivated.

In the fall of 1918, 13-year-old German immigrant Pia Lange longs to be far from Philadelphia’s overcrowded streets and slums, and from the anti-German sentiment that compelled her father to enlist in the U.S. Army, hoping to prove his loyalty. But an even more urgent threat has arrived. Spanish influenza is spreading through the city. Soon, dead and dying are everywhere. With no food at home, Pia must venture out in search of supplies, leaving her infant twin brothers alone . . .

  1. Jean Pici says:

    This book hit very close to home because my maternal grandmother along with two of her small children succumbed to the Spanish Flu in 1919 in Buffalo New York. Diligent genealogy searches have never been able to turn up any death records for her or the children. After reading The Orphan Collector, I realize that the deaths were occurring so rapidly that bodies were just taken away and buried in mass graves often with no records being maintained. That’s probably what happened to Grandma Jane.

    This was certainly not a happy story but definitely a riveting one. Thirteen-year-old Pia endures unbelievable hardships including the loss of both parents, surviving the flu herself, being sent to an orphanage, and separation from her only two remaining relatives – four-month-old twin boys. She spends years searching for them not realizing they were taken by a neighbor, Bernice, whose own infant son and husband had both died. Bernice is the ‘orphan collector’. She is unbalanced by her grief and is extremely prejudiced. She embarks on a dark journey impersonating a Red Cross nurse and taking abandoned infants and providing them to couples who have recently lost their own asking for healthy donations to an orphanage which she keeps for herself. In other words, she sells babies. She also puts older ‘undesirable’ immigrant children on trains going to rural areas promising them families will meet them at their destination and give them loving homes on farms. No one meets them and they are abandoned to subsist as best as they can far from home.

    This book was written at the dawn of the Covid 19 pandemic and is not for the faint of heart. There were so many similarities in how the two pandemics, separated by 100 years, were handled by authorities — it was eerie. If you love reading good historical fiction and are curious about the Spanish Flu pandemic, this is an excellent read.

  2. Grace Brown katmom says:

    Jean, great review. I will certainly have to check this one out to read. So similar to my mother’s life during WWII. Her hometown of Heilbronn Germany was bombed by the Allies on Christmas Eve, so many deaths that a mass grave was used for the bodies, and like in The Orphan Collector, there was no record of those buried, and so many orphans left to fend for themselves if not taken in by remaining family or neighbors. 1918, 1930’s or 2019, sadly so much history, “people’s stories” are lost.

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