In 1921, the massive luxury liner, the SS Paris, departs from the French port Le Havre for New York on its maiden voyage. There are thousands aboard and no doubt each has his own unique story to tell, an interesting reason for making the voyage, but Crossing on the Paris by Dana Gynther focuses on three women. For these three, the crossing is more than just a physical journey. It’s a time of self-examination and self-discovery.
First Class passenger Vera Sinclair is a wealthy, elderly American ex-patriot returning to New York after a lifetime in Paris. Despite a short-lived marriage, numerous love affairs, and many friendships, she is returning home to die alone. She has been diagnosed with breast cancer and her slow deterioration has frightened away the man she considered her closest friend. On the journey home, re-reading her journals, she’s left to wonder if the accumulated wisdom of old age is any wisdom at all. And what use is it to anyone?
Down in steerage, Julie Vernet in an employee not a passenger. She is a maid working with the lower class passengers emigrating to New York. A petite, shy girl, Julie’s life has been one of quiet despair since her four brothers were all killed in the Great War. She needs a new start. Julie’s shipboard experiences are eye-opening and ultimately appalling as she learns how to navigate the world beyond Le Havre.
The three women’s paths cross and cross again as the trans-Atlantic journey progresses. These are lovely character sketches. I found myself sympathizing with all three women and pulling for them to make the right choices. The descriptions of the luxury liner as well as the detours into the lives of the women off the boat were all beautifully detailed. When N.Y. harbor comes into sight, the book draws to a satisfying conclusion. This was a perfect pre-Holiday read.