Book Review: Copper Sky – Milana Marsenich
***I was very kindly provided with a free copy of this book by the author, via OpenBooks, in exchange for an honest review. All the opinions stated below are my own ***
One hundred years on – the times have changed, as have our struggles… and nothing reminds us of that more than Copper Sky:-
The feminine spirit of the West comes alive in early twentieth century Montana.
Set in the Copper Camp of Butte, Montana in 1917, Copper Sky tells the story of two women with opposite lives. Kaly Shane, mired in prostitution, struggles to find a safe home for her unborn child, while Marika Lailich, a Slavic immigrant, dodges a pre-arranged marriage to become a doctor. As their paths cross, and they become unlikely friends, neither knows the family secret that ties them together.
Writing as somebody who has had the stability and privilege of 1st world background, this has naturally had some influence over the way in which I have interpreted the book. Some people may disagree with my comments, but please understand that I write them as generalisations only. In no way am I discrediting anybody else’s opinion or experience just because it is not a majority.
Comparing the lifestyle of these two women is a far cry from that expected and experienced by many others in modern day. That being said, we still have our modern day issues to contend with.
One of the topics Milana brings to the table, in a variety of ways, is the rights of women. This is still a hot topic today, albeit for different reasons. By way of example, one of our local topical debates at the moment is the issue of legalising abortion. My home town is the very place that allowed landowning women to vote from 1881 – some 37 years before the UK even introduced it, yet to get an abortion, women usually travel as they cannot be accessed here!
Anyway, that is a discussion for another time perhaps. The point is this; society has adapted within the past 100 years and thankfully our living and working conditions are not so harsh (for the most part).
Kaly, one of many prostitutes in Butte, has to battle with the reality that she is pregnant. The father, whom Kaly has known since childhood, wants to help her raise the child. Having had a difficult, parentless childhood herself, she faces inner turmoil, wondering what kind of life her child will ever have. Should she raise the child, (most likely into prostitution), or allow the child to be raised in an unsafe foster home? Those are not the only options either, but they are not pretty at all.
Marika has different troubles of her own. Does she respect her father’s wishes and marry the husband he has found for her, or pursue her dreams of training to be a doctor? Marika is a stubborn girl and I admire her mettle, as even in fighting into a profession she has longed to join since girlhood – it is very much a man’s world. Time and again she is not taken seriously, but she keeps trying all the same!
Copper Sky is based around real events and disasters within Butte, Montana. Mining disasters, fires and later civil unrest were frequent occurrences and as Milana correctly highlights – mining is a dangerous profession. Working conditions were less than ideal and many men lost their lives labouring in those mineshafts.
Despite the serious themes of the book, it is not without beauty. Gorgeous, vivid descriptions of the landscape and community reflect the author’s love of her hometown, and the depth of both Kaly’s and Marika’s perspective is absorbing. I was never in any doubt as to whose perspective the narrative was being relayed from due to the contrasting ideas and attitudes of the women.
Whereas Kaly, through hardship and experience has a perhaps pessimistic attitude to life (as can only be expected given everything she has gone through), Marika is youthful, hopeful and has an arguably more naïve innocence about her. Each character is complex; even though Kaly has little hope or stability for her child, she still moderates herself for the health of the baby so doesn’t dismiss having it outright. Marika, on the other hand, has a fiery temper and willfulness to be her own person and not be given by one man into the possession of another.
Living in a small community myself, I sense, relate to and love the community spirit that comes together anytime disaster strikes. When it comes to saving lives, all social and economic disparities are set aside, as they should be, in my humble opinion. The author has captured the soul and portrayed both sides of the double-sided coin of life in a way that broadens perspective. It is one thing to know what lengths people will go to and what motivates them, and quite another to experience it by seeing through their eyes.
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