Land of Dreams by Kate Kerrigan, the third book in the Ellis Island trilogy (Ellis Island and City of Hope), could be read alone as Kerrigan provides enough background on Ellie Hogan that new readers could pick this one up without a problem, but readers may find a richer reading experience when they read all three.
(If you haven’t read the other 2 books, this review could contain spoilers for those books)
Ellie Hogan has come into her own as a wife, mother, and artist, only to have her life disrupted when her oldest adopted son Leo runs away from his upstate New York boarding school. Ellie is a first generation Irish immigrant who has lost a lot to the Irish war against the English, but she’s also gained a sense of purpose in America, learning to make her own way. Her artist’s life is very isolated on Fire Island, and with her son, Tom, she has a quiet existence among the people who have become like family. But when her son, Leo, runs away to Hollywood, she has to make a choice — send the police or go after him herself. Making her away across the United States, Ellie tries to keep her fears at bay while being thankful that her youngest son is in the care of good friends while she makes the journey. Along the way, she meets Stan, a composer who escaped from Poland before the Nazis took over.
“Yet surely the desire for fame was not so different from the desire to be loved, and everyone in the world wants to be loved. The desire for fame and love is born from a deep human need to be seen, and I felt as if I could really see this young woman now, beyond the mules and the dye and her ridiculous ideas and affectations. So I started to draw her.” (pg. 122)
Ellie may have been a quintessential landscape painter with her own signature for delivering paintings to her clients, but in Los Angeles, she’s a mother in search of a star-struck son. She must decide whether at 16 he should pursue his dream or return to New York and school, and it is a tough decision for any mother with a son who has finally found something to be passionate about. Ellie’s experiences in a restrictive Catholic home in Ireland inform her ultimate decisions, as she decides that she would rather be more open-minded than her parents had been with her. Kerrigan easily tackles the ideas of nature versus nurture in Ellie’s parenting, touches upon the seedier side of Hollywood — though not as much as some readers would expect — and incorporates significant details about World War II and the internment of Japanese-Americans.
Land of Dreams by Kate Kerrigan is a satisfying conclusion to this trilogy about seeking out a home and family, but also stability. But it is also about the realization of dreams across generations and having the gumption to take the leap. While everything is not as it appears in Hollywood, the facades of the city also mirror those of Ellie’s own adopted country — a land of freedom and opportunity that still oppresses certain minorities and immigrants seeking a better life.
About the Author:
35th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.
29th book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.
4th Book for the Ireland Reading Challenge 2014.