Historical Fiction. It’s 1859 and women have few rights, even to their own children. When her husband dies and her children become wards of a predator, Martha—bereaved and scared—flees their beloved country home taking the children with her to New York City. Overwhelmed by the chaos of the City and its squalor, she manages to find them shelter in a tenement packed with other down-on-their-luck families. She struggles to find work as a seamstress but when cheated and then assaulted by her employer, she decides to use her craftiness to make items she can sell instead. It’s not enough, and their money dwindles. The children are hungry. The apartment is cold and drafty. They can’t afford coal for their fire. Illness lays them low. There is no help nor friend. Alone in this strange dirty city where she can’t seem to find a foothold, Martha begins to lose hope.
The Home for the Friendless, an aid society, offers free food, clothing, and schooling to New York’s street kids and fallen women. When a cutpurse takes the last of their money, Martha reluctantly places her two boys in the Home, keeping daughter Sarah to help with the baby. Martha takes roommates into her one room, rotating her and Sarah’s bed in shifts with other struggling women to save money. Finally, faced with prostitution and homelessness herself, Martha takes Sarah and baby Homer to the Home for what she thinks is short-term care. When her quarterly visits to her children are blocked, Martha discovers that the Society has indentured her two eldest out to work in New York and Illinois via the Orphan Train, and has placed her two youngest for permanent adoption in Ohio. Stunned at their loss, Martha begs for her children back, but the Society refuses. Her life unraveled, she pursues her children as the Civil War erupts, finally tracking down three of the four. But in a heart-wrenching showdown, the fourth, the baby, is lost, leaving his mother forever bereaved.
In The Bereaved, Julia Park Tracey reopens America’s wounds in prose that is propulsive and resonant. Martha’s struggles are the stuff of classic literature. Theodore Dreiser comes to mind but so too the fine contemporary novels of Jo Baker and Maggie O’Farrell.
Translation, Audio, Film/Tv
Release Date September 2023. Manuscript Available.