It is not difficult to be horrified by the level of cruelty that humans will inflict on one another, especially where prejudice and power are involved. There is much in this book that tells of the trauma, the emotional and physical scarring, and the horrors experienced by the victims of such torture experienced not only by those who survived the government pogroms against the Jews in late 19th century Russia, but also by those exposed to the depths of degradation meted out to those who found themselves inside the cruel, cold walls of the notorious Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum in New York.
Based on the true story of Nellie Bly’s infiltration of the asylum and subsequent exposure of the abuses and brutality that occurred there, and on the experiences of many who fled Russia in the hope of making a new life in America, ‘A Different Kind of Angel’ tells the stories of Klara Gelfman and the other women she meets inside that institution.
The book certainly has its dark moments, but it also gives emphasis to the resilience and kindness of people like Klara and her friends Catherine and Nellie. These women are inspirational in their ability to rise above the pain and muck time and time again, reminders to us all of the power of encouragement and kindness in the face of hostility and fear.
Mahurin tells a compelling story. The characters are strongly drawn, and the depictions of the various behaviours of the inmates of the asylum are vivid and, one suspects, based on careful study and research. At no time is the narrative insensitive to the plight of the insane, nor to the individual qualities of each woman and her mental illness. The reader has a strong sense of how their lives and conditions could be vastly different given proper care, nutrition and some kindness, and feels deeply grateful to the few souls who showed these women as much compassion as they were able to.
Overall, the story is more encouraging than depressing, and most enlightening. Despite the darkness, the message of the story is positive and empowering, especially for those enduring some kind of misery or darkness in their own lives.
‘A Different Kind of Angel: A Novel’ has been awarded a Gold Acorn.
Find your copy here.