Summary: Butte, Montana, 1895-1917. An explosion following a warehouse fire killed dozens of men and women, orphaning their children. With nowhere else to go, the children crowd into the already full Polly May Home for Kids. Miss Anderson did her best to feed and clothe the children but love and affection were in short supply. The boys were destined to get into trouble and work in the mines at an early age; the girls frequently fell into prostitution. Even those children who were lucky enough to keep one or both of their parents were affected for the rest of their lives by the tragedy.
The novel follows several people but focuses primarily on two young women, Kaly and Marika. Kaly, penniless and poorly educated, struggles to regain lost memories of the day her twin sister was murdered. She ekes out a living in one of a string of shacks for prostitutes, living in world of disease and drugs. Kaly never knew her parents and longs for the security of family. Marika lives in better circumstances with her parents and brother, but her father, Stojan, is dying from lung disease, a common by-product of a miner’s life. Stojan is a man of tradition who wants to see his daughter married before he dies. But Marika’s grandmother taught her traditional healing arts when she was a girl. Marika desperately wants to follow a career in medicine rather than marry a man she doesn’t even know.
After Marika gets the town doctor to take her on as an assistant, she is asked to help nurse Kaly back to health. The two women eventually realize their lives are intertwined in ways neither of them ever expected.
Comments: In its construction, Copper Sky made me think of symphonic music. Disparate parts each play their tunes yet slowly weave together until the crescendo when all is revealed to have been carefully orchestrated parts of a whole. While I guessed most of the outcome early on, I just had to see how the characters would learn how their lives intertwined.
The novel does a credible job of describing life in an early 20th century western mining town. The warehouse fire and another disaster (I won’t give that one away) were historical events. The author breathes life into the past and shines a spotlight on how real people would have coped with change and loss, maintaining fortitude and hope despite the odds against them.