Near the turn of the century, Cira Valentino must travel from Sicily to America with her family. She weeps the whole voyage because shes been forced to leave Renzo, the first love of her youthful life. At Ellis Island, her swollen red eyes look like trachoma, a contagious disease, and shes sent back to Italy, alone.

The man who offers her a ride from the port city to her village attacks her on the way. Shes rescued by Thatcher Montgomery, a young American touring Europe, who is on his way to Ciras village to pick up a sculpture from a local artist. The rich, worldly American and the beautiful peasant girl are attracted to each other, but both know the gulf between their worlds, both have other lives to lead. They say goodbye.

Cira discovers Renzo with another woman. Her home in Sicily no longer exists. Even her best friend, Lucia, has mysteriously left the village to work in the city. The American, a stranger, is the only one she can turn to for help. Their attraction increases, and although both acknowledge the problems their differences present, they fall in love and sail to America together. Before the ship arrives in New York, Cira must accept that Thatcher can never marry her and she returns to steerage to disembark where she discovers Lucia. At Ellis Island, Cira passes immigration, but her friend, secretly with child, collapses. Ciras torn between her loyalty to her friend and her desire for the love of her life.

Although the picturesque setting varies more, Wendy Corsi Staubs novel shares many of the most romantic elements of the movie Titanic. This is a pleasing love story about the class distinctions of an era, about friendship and family, and about letting go of love only to discover that love can never really be gone. Sensual (July, 342 pp., $6.50)

Reviewed by: 
Gerry Benninger