I recently finished reading, Jadwiga's Crossing: a story of the Great Migration by Aloysius and Richard Lutz. This was one of the more interesting historical novels I've read in a while. The author focuses the story on one young Polish couple's voyage to America back in the late 1800s when ships relied on wind and sail to get them across the Atlantic, a journey that might take 4-12 weeks.
The first 9 chapters of the book introduce and develop the 2 main characters back in Poland. The next 7 chapters introduce the group who traveled in steerage together aboard ship and the train trip from Gdansk to Bremerhaven where they boarded the ship. The next 31 chapters cover the voyage itself and the last 6 chapters tell of their arrival in America and life afterwards.
While the main characters of the story are Polish, their experience aboard ship and settling in a new country would have been common for the many who immigrated to the U.S. during that time period. It's hard to imagine spending weeks in the bowels of a ship being tossed about on the north Atlantic. But as is evident from the story, the people traveling in steerage were not holiday adventure seekers. They were motivated to make a better life for themselves and their families and they were used to hardships in life. Unlike people in the U.S. these days who commonly have hours of leisure time each day, these folks worked from sun up to sun down each day just to eek out a living.
This story happens to take place about the same time my great grandparents immigrated to the U. S. from Bobrowa, Poland. So for me the story was illustrative of the kinds of things they must have endured along the way... fear of the unknown, a language barrier, ethnic discrimination, not enough to eat, rudimentary health care, and a lack of education and job skills.
The reminder of what my great grandparents went through to make a new life for themselves here was a good one. By the end of the story I was counting my blessings and had come to have a greater appreciation for what they must have endured.
Jadwiga's Crossing is not an altogether sad story though it does have its sad moments. Mostly the story leaves you with a sense of triumph of the human spirit. It's a good read and I recommend it to you.