5 out of 5 stars
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Clara, a trained nurse, has never left her hometown in Ohio. She embarks on a perilous journey across the sea to Panama after she receives a letter from her distressed brother Samuel. He is very sick and unable to make the journey home alone, and he needs her help.
On arrival, she finds Samuel waiting on the dock. He is gravely ill. Clara rushes him to the hospital, but despite her best efforts, he dies in her arms.
Distraught that she was too late to save him, Clara wants to understand why her beloved brother stayed in such a desolate place. Under his bed, Clara finds Samuel's notes outlining the terrible conditions the working men must endure. He writes of his frustrations and desperation. Many men are needlessly dying because of dangerous working and living conditions. Lack of food and proper medical care all add to their misery. Clara realizes her brother stayed in a vain attempt to help these men.
Clara meets Colonel William Gorgas, a doctor in charge of the sanitation projects in the canal zone. His vision for eradicating yellow fever is his top priory in the hope of reducing deaths among the workers. He is largely ignored and seriously underfunded, but Clara fights his corner every step of the way.
Clara falls gravely ill but survives under the care of Doctor Gorgas and the formidable Nurse Murdoch. She makes the bold decision to stay in Panama and put to good use her nursing skills in the hospital. She knows this news will destroy her family but feels compelled to carry on her brother's legacy so that his death is not in vain.
This historical novel pulls no punches. Clara's Way by Roberta R. Carr, is set in 1905 during the well-documented building of the Panama Canal. The historical details of the dangerous engineering construction have been well-researched and interwoven into this story.
I found the part of the story where Clara nurses the sick and the dying to be particularly descriptive and compelling. Raised to be a strong, independent woman, Clara loves her job, but her family expects her to marry a man she is fond of but doesn't love. She fights the social norms and expectations of women having few opportunities at the turn of the century. I felt connected to the inner turmoil of Clara's feelings about the need to be herself while not wanting to hurt the people she loves.
The different characters in the story had enough narration to make them interesting and believable. Clara is fictitious, but some characters are real historical people who worked on the Panama canal project. Either way, they are all authentic and well-rounded.
I loved Amelia in particular. Fun and vivacious, she cares for the men working under her ruthless husband's command. Through Amelia's eyes, Clara sees the hidden beauty of Panama, the landscape, and the animals. She became Clara's sanctuary and confidant.
There is a love interest in the story that is written sympathetically and in keeping with the essence of the period of the novel.
The only thing I found disappointing was when the book ended. It certainly wasn't the end of Clara's story, and I wanted more. I would look forward to a sequel.
For me, it was an enjoyable read that kept me interested. It is well-edited. I would give it a 5 out of 5 and highly recommend it to anyone interested in history, inspirational women, and stories with a medical background.
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