In this powerful novel Katharine Weber brings history and fiction together to give us a glimpse of one of the most stunning workplace disasters in U.S. history. In 1911, near the end of a workday, a fire started at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory in Manhattan. While the initial cause of the fire remains unknown, the flammable cotton of which the shirtwaists were made caused the fire to spread quickly. Crowded conditions, locked exit doors, a faulty fire escape, and insufficient fire-fighting equipment led to the deaths of over 140 workers, most of them young immigrant women.
Weber uses the recollections of the last survivor of the fire, Esther Gottesfeld, as the basis for the novel. The story goes back and forth between present day events and characters, and Esther’s numerous retelling of events on the day of the fire. Characters include Esther’s granddaughter, Rebecca, a geneticist; Rebecca’s boyfriend George, a successful composer; and a feminist historian with her own agenda.
Weber successfully interweaves music, genetics, history, and the immigrant experience in America to create a fascinating and moving story.
Published in hardcover-Farrar, Straus and Giroux-2006