It’s 1914. And an adventurous sixteen-year-old Bessie Coughlin stands on the deck of the RMS Lapland, sailing from Ireland to the United States, eager to leave a decimated family history behind and enjoy a future of hope and vitality in the Irish community of Portland, Maine. But change doesn’t come with any guarantees, and her daughter Cora suffers a horrific assault.
By 1995, Bessie’s great-granddaughter Cassandra is nearly invisible in a bustling Chicago, where she buries herself in her work, disconnected from her mother and the world around her. When she stumbles upon information indicating she may not know the truth about her family, she seeks to wrest the stories from the graves of her mother and grandmother.
Will Cassandra be able to find the truth and begin her own healing?
Clara’s Journal: And the Story of Two Pandemics
Clara’s Journal provides a peek into life in rural America during the early 20th century through the eyes of an 18-year-old high school senior who shares her everyday life as well as her experience living through the unprecedented 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.
Eighteen-year-old Clara Mae Horen lives on a small farm near Cresbard, South Dakota, and bears witness to young friends and neighbors dying from the deadly flu. While she attends plays with friends, completes her weekly chores around the farmhouse, studies algebra, falls in love, practices the piano, and indulges in her love for candy, the United States is embroiled in its own triumphs and struggles: the fight against the pandemic, World War I, the fight for women’s suffrage and the 19th Amendment, the expansion of transcontinental railroads, Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations Tour, the Omaha and the other Red Summer 1919 race riots, and its relationship with Native Americans such as the Lakota Sioux on the Cheyenne River Reservation.
Using the journal of her grandaunt, Vickie Oddino weaves a fascinating story of life in the early 1900s, elaborating on the particulars Clara discusses and drawing comparisons to the pandemic we are living through today. Enjoy a step back in time as we explore a community devastated by the 1918 influenza and a people who have more in common with us than we might suspect.
Explore the world of Clara in more detail!
According to her journal, Clara spent her days cooking her favorite dishes and deserts, playing the piano. reading books, and attending plays, Try your hand at some of the recipes from 1918, listen to the music played at funerals and weddings, and read the books Clara enjoyed!
You can even join our BOOK CLUB where we read and discuss what Clara read!.
What Do Readers Have to Say about Clara’s Journal?
I loved this book. It was an insightful journey into Clara’s life during the days of Spanish Flu. As a history lover, I was intrigued at how the author was able to bridge the two epidemics to bring Clara’s story to life. The research done was extensive, awe-inspiring and appreciated. – Michelle Doyle
Clara’s Journal is a masterpiece of research. Using Aunt Clara’s short, daily journal entries, the reader is able to see right into a day in the life of 1918. The author then breaks down these entries, which offers fascinating insights into the politics, food, medicine, chores, and social life might look like 100+ years ago. – Anders Freund
I thoroughly enjoyed this authentic diary of Clara, living her life in the midst of the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919. As my 21 year old maternal grandmother died from this flu, the entries of someone close in age were very meaningful and enlightening to me. I also liked how the author expanded, with interesting information, on each of Clara’s short entries. It helped me to envision the world during that sad time. I highly recommend this book. – Beverly A. McGahee
As a RN and vaccinator, I was spellbound by this book. It is amazing history fleshed out from a simple diary of an 18 year old losing friends in a small town during the 1918 Pandemic. I learned a great deal of history and Life….and it was full of surprises too. I marveled at the culture present in the Dakotas and the behavior of an 18 year old who rarely went to bed before midnight. IT’S MY FAVORITE PANDEMIC READING these past 2 years as I have explored other books and accounts. I appreciated how complex life has truly always been instead of over-glossed accounts of our ancestors. – Athenasculptress
This is a moving, insightful book that transports a person to a different time and place while bridging the gap to the present. Brilliantly done. Establishing the historical setting to create as much of the scene and environment as possible which results in feeling a part of the lives of the people remembered in the writing. Read this in quiet reflection. – Don Snow
Who would have thought we’d be in a time where we could relate to a teenaged girl living through the Spanish flu in 1918? Clara keeps a short, sometimes cryptic record of her days as she tries to maintain a normal life in the middle of a pandemic. She reports on her sewing progress, gatherings with friends and attendance at funerals in the same tone. This is where Oddino comes in to provide the context and give depth to the journal entries. The Cresbard community comes to life as we learn about the individuals and families Clara mentions…. This is definitely worth a read! – Claudia Strickert
I thought this was interesting and well written…. This could have been my own family. Clara’s journal is mostly stark. I mean the entries are often only a couple of sentences. The author fills it out and adds little tidbits about people mentioned in the diary. This is the kind of history that I love. Everyday people from obscure little places who didn’t have a big impact on world history still have a story to tell. As we progressed week by week through the journal I began to feel like I knew these people. The author paints a clear picture of what life was like for Clara and her circle in 1918. – Maddie Barone
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