You Were There Before My Eyes

You Were There Before My Eyes by Maria Riva. New York: Pegasus Books, 467 pages. ***** Publication Date - October 7, 2017.

The story begins, "The morning her mother died, Giovanna gave up on God." An only child, raised by a remote father and disciplined by the nuns in a quiet turn-of-the-century Italian village, Giovanna is determined to escape the inevitable future planned for her. When the brother of a friend returns to the village to choose a wife with certain qualities for a perfect marriage. When his chosen fiance turns him down, Giovanna volunteers to marry Giovanni and travel with him to America to start a new life as his wife.
Nothing prepares Giovanna for Ellis Island and the train journey to Detroit where her new husband works in the Ford factories. Renaming themselves, Jane and John, they are determined to fit into life in their new neighborhood and the culture surrounding employment in the Ford factory. Henry Ford has strong opinions about how his employees should behave and rewards those who are married. It is 1913 and the factory is installing the first assembly line to produce the Model T. John, a leader among his immigrant friends at the factory, is optimistic about the many opportunities available by working at the plant. Jane is determined to be a good wife to John and to make him proud of her, even if the many norms and customs in America are strange to her. With the advent of World War I, their world becomes one of suspicion, loss, and betrayal.

I knew nothing about this time period and the workings of the Ford factory, but I was absolutely captivated by this love story. Riva introduces us to everyday life for the poor working class at the turn of the century. The factory workers who revere the owners and those who covertly meet to push the "union" agenda. Immigrants who come to America believe that if one works hard enough, a better life and prosperity will be theirs. Being a family historian and ggggrandaughter of Irish immigrants, I am fascinated by the hardships, friendships, and relationships that they formed when they arrived in America. Riva gives us a glimpse into how it really does take a village to survive as an immigrant. Hannah, the landlady, takes Jane under her wing, befriends, and counsels her. The best historical fiction transports me to a time and place and I become lost in that other world, Jane and John's story does that for me.

I received an ecopy for a review.

Maria Riva was born in Berlin in 1924 and is the only child of Marlene Dietrich.  Maria performed in Germany and Italy as part of a USO troupe during World War II and taught acting at Fordham University upon her return to the United States.  She has performed on Broadway, radio, television, and film and has been nominated for an Emmy. Maria continues an active life in California and spends time visiting her sons and grandchildren. 

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