By YVONNE CURRY
Cumberland County College had the honor of hosting a number one bestselling author, this past October. Christina Baker Kline was the selected author in the 2015 One Book – One College program. She was on campus to share her insights on her New York Times best seller Orphan Train. Each year the OBOC committee chooses one exceptional book for the College community to read. Orphan Train did not disappoint.
Briefly, the story Orphan Train is a classic exile story that, at its heart, revolves around an elderly Irish immigrant women (Vivian), who was among the thousands of abandoned children on the streets of New York taken in by the Children’s Aid Society. These children where regularly sent by rail trains from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest between 1854 and 1929, in hopes of a better future. As Vivian remembers her past, she connects with a younger character Molly, a troubled teenager seemingly living a life Vivian is all too familiar with.
Kline, who was born in England, raised in Maine, and is currently a resident of Montclair, New Jersey is an admirable storyteller. Maybe once in a decade, or even once in a generation, a book like Orphan Train comes along. Kline’s storytelling makes the reader aware of the character’s harsh loneliness, their deepest pain, but also shows their resilience to survive. From the first page of her writing, it’s clear that Kline is a contemporary master.
In person, Kline was as fascinating and resilient as her characters Vivian and Molly specifically, the way she spoke of her personal battle to overcome cancer. Prior to the presentation to the general public, English Professor, Sharon Kewish, the OBOC coordinator, invited the author to the college for an intimate meet and greet. A small group of students, staff, and faculty enjoyed the opportunity to meet the author, ask questions about the book, express their likes as well as dislikes, and revel in taking pictures during a book signing. Following an enjoyable dinner for the author and the small group of attendees, campus and community members were invited to listen to a free author-led invigorating discussion on the history of the novel, the motivations behind the story, and a question and answer session for the audience.
Orphan Train falls into two distinct parts, both with an underlying common theme, the reveling of children passing through a system that didn’t have their best interest at heart during the 1800’s, and simultaneously focusing on the present day. Not an appealing subject, but an amazing journey that is simply captivating. Helen Schulman, New York Times bestselling author of This Beautiful Life quotes, “Christina Baker Kline’s latest wonder, Orphan Train, makes for compulsive reading – this is a story of resilience in the face of tremendous odds and oppressive loneliness. Meticulously researched and yet full of the breath of life, Kline’s novel takes us on an historical journey where survival depends on one’s own steely backbone, and the miracle of a large and generous heart.”
This was the 10th year for Cumberland’s OBOC campus and community wide reading program. The National Association of Scholars has been studying college common reading programs to find out what books are selected, how many and what kinds of colleges have such programs, and how these assignments are integrated into campuses’ academic life. Their analysis show that this is a trend to pay attention to and can be seen as a microcosm of college life that can illuminate the particular concepts that American colleges and universities care about and the kind of reading they expect of their students.