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.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Author: Milana Marsenich
Paperback, 346 pages
Publishing Date: May 15th, 2017
Publishing House: Open Books Publishing
ISBN: 0998427462 (ISBN13: 9780998427461)
Spur Award Nominee for Best Western Historical Novel (2018)
This character-driven expose into the early 20th-century life out West is a compelling slice of American pie. On the outside, the copper color of the cover invites to something warm and delicious to be had on the inside, but don't be fooled, what you will find is anything but sweetness alone. Hardship, disaster, perseverance, loyalty, intrigue, loss, and love combined created the recipe for this engaging, heartfelt and tragic novel.
Welcome to Butte, Montana 1895. A city in southwest Montana that established as a gold and silver mining town in the 1860s and later became a hotbed for its rich copper storage. A melting pot of immigrant workers, the rich and the poor. A place where tycoons excel while mine workers lay their lives on the line to make a living and feed their families.
I've never been to Butte, Montana but I have visited coal mining towns and historic sites in West Virginia. As far as I can imagine a mining camp, there's everything to be had to live a hard-earned semi-comfortable life (at the time), with schools, a commissary and a post office set up. As human nature goes, there's always room for the sinister and corrupt in circles of bars and pleasure houses where a lot of living and dealing goes on behind the scenes. This book delves into both of those worlds and sometimes the lines get blurry and fade into the other.
Marsenich's novel was in part inspired by the warehouse fire that ignited a large store of dynamite resulting in a great explosion that devastated several blocks of Butte, Montana, and killed an estimated 58 people as well as the disaster of the Speculator Mine in 1917. With liberty on the events, Copper Sky spans a compelling plot throughout the time frame of both events with two fierce female main characters, their coming of age and a family secret that connects them unexpectedly.
Kaly and her sister Anne Marie are orphaned twins and grow up in a house for wayward children. When they are young, playing outside, a great explosion rattles the town and they become witnesses of the devastating event. When the dust settles, body parts were strewn everywhere. A never ending nightmare that accompanies the girls daily.
A few years later, tragedy befalls the girls directly. Kaly is assaulted and raped, while Anne Marie is found dead on a cold, cold winter day. This loss has impacted Kaly greatly for the years to come. As natural causes have been ruled out, a young man is accused of the crime and is sent off.
Kaly has never lost her intuition that the wrong person was taken for the crime. In her nightmares, she sees a man with a big scar on his face.
As she finds herself lost, without a family as a young adult working in local pleasure houses, pregnancy is the last thing she needs to turn her life around.
Marika Lailich, a Slavic immigrant finds herself on an opposite end. Her family is well known and liked. Their family value and ties to their heritage are strong and honored. She is to be married to a man she does not even know, but her dreams are to become a doctor. With the energy and full determination to make this dream come true, she opposes her father every chance she gets and with a small bag of tinctures, herbs, and ointments she goes around town, trying to help the ill and do good. A local doctor finds her pestilent insistence annoying yet intriguing.
By chance, Marika and Kaly meet and for Kaly, their connection is imminently one of warmth and friendship. Their lives could not be more different, yet they are brought together for the better.
As the sinister is happening in bars and brawls, it is difficult to sort out characters to trust. Some have a dark past and it's hidden, while other's blankly flaunt their credible selfishness and menace.
The girls are struggling in their own rights against the demons holding them back. Heartfelt and courageous, this story is full of missed chances and lessons learned. A plot that's intriguing as you watch it all unfold on the sideline.
Will Kaly find the murderer of her sister? Will she see the truth right in front of her eyes?
Will Marika be able to study medicine and dodge marriage to a man she does not know or love?
Both of them will have to take a leap of faith and take a chance. Life changing.
I very much enjoyed this novel of tender and deeply moving characterizations. In part coming of age and honoring the events that really happened in the mines in Butte, Montana, it is a beautiful tribute to the tenacity of life in its time.
This was Marsenich’s debut novel which I read after her novel 'The Swan Keeper' and both of them are highly commendable and recommendable books. I would read anything she writes for her eloquence and beautiful prose.
(See my review of The Swan Keeper)
The beginning of the book: This is how beautiful the writing continues throughout the novel.
I received this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.
All opinions are my own.
Check out some links in regards to the disasters in Butte, Montana:
Montana Mines: https://miningartifacts.homestead.com/MontanaMines.html
The Granite Mountain Speculator Mine Memorial: https://miningartifacts.homestead.com/MontanaMines.html
Scenario Journal: https://scenariojournal.com/article/butte-montana/