As I read the Orphan Collector, I couldn’t help but notice parallels between 1918 and 2020. Mask mandates, closures of theatres and churches. Overcrowded hospitals and fear of a deadly, unseen enemy. The so-called “Spanish” influenza spread quickly and violently. Young children and young parents in crowded conditions succumbed the most. Desperate people turned to folk remedies drinking kerosene and whisky and wearing necklaces of garlic. But these provided little protection against a virus that could kill in a matter of hours, leaving countless orphans, and parents bereft of children.
Thirteen year old Pia, living in Philadelphia, already has life challenges. Her German heritage for one thing, carefully guarded in a time of war and prejudice. The poverty of her circumstances is alleviated only by the unselfishness and advocacy of her dear Mutti and the love of her Vati, who they hope will return from the front. Pia often experiences pain when others touch her, causing isolation and fear.
When the flu hits her family her fragile support system collapses and she must care for her infant twin brothers. With the whole city under lockdown, her only friend gone, the choices before her are heart-wrenching. She lives to regret her decision.
Along with the history and mystery surrounding the story, Wiseman has infused plenty of suspense and just enough credible horror to make the reader cringe. Descriptions and realistic detail create a convincing world with complex characters both lovable and despicable. The Orphan Collector kept me up well past bedtime. A stirring five star read for fans of 20th century historical fiction and suspense.