• You Were There Before My Eyes by Maria Riva
You were there before my eyes Book Cover You were there before my eyes
Maria Riva
Historical Fiction, Family Saga
Pegasus Books
October 10, 2017
Hardcover, paperback, Kindle

A richly imagined portrait of an immigrant woman in the heady and unpredictable first half of the twentieth century.

Sweeping and panoramic, You Were There Before My Eyes is the epic and intimate story of a young woman who chafes at the stifling routine and tradition of her small, turn-of-the-century Italian village. When an opportunity presents itself for her to emigrate to America, her hunger for escape compels her to leave everything behind for the gleaming promises await her and her young husband in Mr. Ford’s factories.

Determine to survive, and perhaps even thrive, young Jane finds herself navigating not just a new language and country, but a world poised upon the edge of economic and social revolution―and war. As Jane searches for inner fulfillment while building young family, the tide of history ebbs and flows. From the chaos of Ellis Island to the melting pot of industrial Detroit, You Were There Before My Eyes spills over with colorful characters and vivid period details. Maria Riva paints an authentic portrait of immigrant America and poignantly captures the ever evolving nature of the American dream.

Fascinating historical saga that will transport you back in time…

Maria Riva’s You Were There Before My Eyes shares the experiences, thoughts and feelings of American Immigrants through the life of Giovanna, “Jane”; a plain but thoughtful young Italian teen who jumps into a marriage of convenience to escape her small village life and loss of her mother.  Beginning in the late 1800s, the story follows Jane’s trans-Atlantic journey to Henry Ford’s Michigan, where her husband is a prominent engineer. A diverse cast of rich and captivating characters fills out the story and provides additional perspectives. Jane’s unique experience is highlighted; from learning the language and customs, to settling in a new town with new friends, to discovering the woman she truly is.

Even non-history fans will appreciate You Were There Before My Eyes. The attention to detail and inclusion of the many of Jane’s experiences provides an authentic perspective on turn of the century life for resident aliens. I enjoyed Riva’s writing style and recreation of history so much that I really wasn’t bothered that it took well into the book to figure out the plot-line. Riva’s picturesque language overflows each page captivating the reader, providing rich and vivid details layered between the terrifying but awe-inspiring experience of moving to a new country that abounds in choices. But this is not just a history book.  Jane’s personal development and how each secondary character’s story plays out were very intriguing.  I found myself reflecting frequently on the time period and Jane’s thoughts and actions, contemplating how much life and attitudes have changed while in some ways following the same patterns generation after generation.

You Were There Before My Eyes by Maria Riva earned four stars from me.  While not everyone will like the slow pace of the plot, which allows Riva to share and abundance of historical detail and experience, I did.  The thoroughness of the storytelling truly felt like a window to the past.  Most of the book felt like a leisurely walk through the woods, taking time to really see the the sights and smells and sounds.  My biggest issue was when the events leading up to WWII spilled across the ocean and affected Jane, her family and friends.  At this point it felt like the story went from nature walk to drag race and was done.  I would have loved to see the same attention to detail concerning each character continued, which would have lengthened the book considerably.

You Were There Before My Eyes.  It is a wonderful read for history buffs or anyone fascinated with turn of the century immigrants.