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Book Review: Lines

Lines. Geralyn Hesslau Magrady. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, December 15, 2015, Trade Paperback and Kindle, 268 pages. 

Reviewed by Janet Feduska Cole.

A story of love, perseverance, and fulfillment, Lines is a historical novel set in the post-Civil War period. The beautifully told story captures the struggles of ordinary people. It also describes the effects the momentous events occurring in Chicago during that time had on their lives.

The story begins as the Civil War ends. Livia, a young girl full of literary hopes and dreams but practical expectations, lives with her parents, her brother Johan, and a young couple, Catherine and Franz, on their tobacco farm in Pennsylvania. But a drought has forced them to reconsider their present lives and to seek a new beginning in Chicago. The city was selected as the site to restart their lives on the advice of young Franz, who has just returned from the war. Once full of hope and life, he has returned ill and psychologically changed. He also has become beholden to a sinister character, Karl, who claims to have saved Franz’s life on the battlefield. It is on Karl’s advisement that Franz encourages the family to move to Chicago. 

Chicago, with its polluted air and rancid smells, is a difficult adjustment for the family.  Nevertheless, Livia’s wings begin to spread. Hoping to supplement the family’s income, she seeks employment outside of the family tobacco shop. In the process, she becomes a servant in a grand hotel and finds love in a most unexpected way. However, her new employment and new love are short-lived, destroyed and torn apart by the devastating Great Chicago Fire.

The novel takes its title from the perspective that lines have been drawn in all areas of life. To be religious means that one must go to church, follow its beliefs, and never cross that line. Unless one belongs to the upper class, one’s behavior must be dictated by certain conventions. A servant must never look someone of a higher status directly in the eye. If one expects to hold a job, one must not object to the harsh long hours and paltry pay. A woman must never aspire to a calling higher than wife and mother or servant or seamstress. Crossing any of those boundaries would be met with retribution, either by being fired, rebuked by a husband, or punished in some other way.

But what might lie on the other side of those lines, should one be bold enough to cross?

Livia has learned from previous conversations with her cherished Will, and through life circumstances, that sometimes lines must be crossed. It is from this realization that Livia, defying the wishes of her husband, joins the growing labor movement.

Lines is a story of heartbreak and hope, of old love and rediscovered love, of defying the odds by crossing lines. It is a story that brings to life the terrifying fight for survival during the Great Chicago Fire and the sacrifice of those involved in the labor movement and particularly in the catastrophe at Haymarket Square.

My criticisms are minor. The author leaves one loose end for the reader: not knowing what happens to the character Karl. On a more minor note, occasionally in the Kindle version, the beginning of a new chapter occurs on the bottom of the page of the previous chapter, and, in other instances, paragraphs run together. Minor formatting flaws aside, I highly recommend the book to those who enjoy historical fiction. Geralyn Hesslau Magrady may soon be a famous author, and not just in Illinois. 


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