Synopses & Reviews
A rich, luminous novel of three remarkable women connected across a century by a family secret and by the fierce brilliance of their love
Samanthas mother has been dead almost a year when the box arrives on her doorstep. In it, she finds recipe cards, keepsakes, letters—relics of her mother Iriss past. But as Sam sifts through these family treasures, she uncovers evidence that her grandmother, Violet, had a much more difficult childhood then she could have ever imagined. And Sam, a struggling new mother herself, begins to see her own burdens in a completely different light. Moving from the tempered calm of contemporary Madison, Wisconsin to the seedy underbelly of early twentieth century New York, we come face to face with a haunting piece of Americas past: From 1854 to 1929 orphan trains from New York transported 150,000 to 200,000 destitute, orphaned or abandoned children across the country to find homes on farms in the Midwest. Rae Meadows takes us on our own journey of discovery in Mercy Train (originally published as Mothers & Daughters), an affecting and wonderfully woven novel about three generations of motherhood, family, and the surprising sacrifices we make for the people we love.
“Wonderful...A perfect book-club pick…It will prime conversations about your own choices, which may change your whole sense of self, or at least make you feel not so alone.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
"A poignant look at three generations struggling with loss and love." —Good Housekeeping
"A book youll want to sit and read straight through...It will have you considering your own choices and those of your mother: What has she chosen not to tell you? What happened before you? What do you want to know?"—Bookpage
"Tender...perceptive... "—The Capital Times
“[Mercy Train] showcases Meadows ability to create generations of fully formed women as they navigate life-defining moments…This is the story of how much we often dont know about the people who raise us.” -Bookslut
"Rae Meadows has written a richly textured novel of three generations of mothers and daughters who by finding each other, find themselves. In these beautifully interwoven stories of birth and death, love and loss, Violet, Iris, and Samantha explore the genetic threads that connect each to the others. . . . a powerful novel of womens secrets and strength."— Sandra Dallas, New York Times best-selling author of Prayers for Sale and Whiter Than Snow
“I couldnt put this book down. Meadows masters the nuances in marriage and family relationships with sensitivity, subtlety and striking accuracy. You must read Mercy Train.”
—Eugenia Kim, author of The Calligraphers Daughter
“Rae Meadows is at the very top of her game in this incredibly honest and often heartbreaking novel. When I was finished, I gave it to my mother to read, and then my mother-in-law, knowing that every woman who has ever had a child, or thought about having a child, would be moved by this phenomenal book.” -Emma Straub, author of Other People We Married and Laura Lamonts Life in Pictures
About the Author
RAE MEADOWS is the author of Calling Out, which received the 2006 Utah Book Award for fiction, and No One Tells Everything, a Poets & Writers Notable Novel. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Reading Group Guide
1. How much did you know about orphan trains before reading this novel? What touched you most about Violets story? Did reading Mercy Train
make you want to learn more?
2. We are introduced to Violet as a rambunctious young girl living with an adventurous zeal for life—that is, until she is sent off on the orphan train. In what ways has Violet changed from a little girl to the older woman Iris remembers as her mother? Why do you think she has changed? How has she remained the same?
3. Which mother/daughter relationship resonated most with you? Why?
4. Has there ever been a time in your life when youve been forced to make a hard decision regarding a loved ones health like Sam is? What do you think of the decision she ultimately made?
5. Do you think each of the mothers in this book represents her particular generation? What about them is specific to the environment in which they grew up?
6. Iris tells Sam that women dont know what they will be like as mothers. Why do you think she tells her this? Do you think this is true? Do women really have no control over the mothers they become?
7. There is a running theme of identity and self throughout the novel. Iris feels that she put up a façade as a mother. Samantha loses her will to create art after having Ella. Is losing ones identity part of becoming a mother? Do the women in this novel think that motherhood is worth the sacrifice?
8. There are a lot of secrets that are kept by the women in the novel (eg., Violets abandonment by her mother; Iriss trip to the Drake Hotel; Sams abortion). Why do you think they keep these secrets—even from those closest to them?
9. Are there any questions that this book brought up that youve ever wanted to ask your mother but couldnt? What are they?
10. Iriss reading played a big role in this novel. Are there any books that you and your mother or children have connected over? Why?
11. Did reading this novel make you think about your own family history? What memories did it bring up? Did it make you want to learn more about your familys past?
12. Violet chooses her path and suggests being sent on the orphan train. “She wanted what her mother could never give her.” Do you think she made the right decision? How would her life have been different?
13. How are Violet, Iris, and Sam similar? How are they different? What do you think Ellas inheritance will be from the family?