Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Book Review Club: After the Fog

After the FogAfter the Fog 
by Kathleen Shoop

Historical Fiction
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in Donora, PA during the killer fog of 1948. For those not familiar with this sidelight of history, here's a little background. Donora is a borough in Washington County, PA., not far from Pittsburgh. The town was built along a curve in the Monongahela River, and is surrounded by hills. At the time of the story, there were three mills along the river, manufacturing steel, wire and zinc. Because of the hills, the air in Donora was rarely clear, and we now know, unhealthy at best. In late October, 1948, a weather inversion trapped the air, creating a toxic stew that sickened many residents and initially killed twenty. Fifty more died afterwards, including the father of Stan Musial. The disaster caught the attention of Washington which launched an investigation. What happened there contributed to the passage of the first Air Pollution Control Act in 1955.

My review:

The main character, Rose Pavlesic, is a nurse who grew up in an orphanage where she was regularly abused. Now a community nurse, Rose struggles to hold her dysfunctional family together while taking care of the needy citizens of her mining town. When the killer fog descends, everyone is stressed, and truths emerge that threaten to destroy her carefully constructed world and tear her family apart.

This frank and stark depiction of life in the mining towns of western Pennsylvania struck a chord with me. I grew up in Pittsburgh and heard people talk about Donora. The town is almost a character, as is the evil, creeping fog that blankets the town and causes so much misery. The language and culture shown in the book are authentic, including words like yunz and nebby and redd-up the room. I also remember the chipped ham at Isaly's, which was quite a treat. On that level, this book was a trip down memory lane for me.

It's easy to forget how polluted our air once was, but I remember the smog and how bad it could make you feel, even simulating an asthma attack in people who don't have asthma. My parents used to tell stories of life in Pittsburgh in the 1930s when the air was so thick, you couldn't see across the street at high noon. We should all be grateful for clean air wherever we find it.


Smog photo from 

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@Barrie Summy

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Rose said...

I've never heard of Donora and this incident in history. It's hard to believe such an event could have taken place in the mid-twentieth century, but I realize pollution wasn't a big concern back then. Sounds like a fascinating book!

Sarah Laurence said...

Wow, that sounds like a really interesting book about a historical incident unknown to me. It reminds me of the mercury poisoning incidents in Japan that gave rise to the environmental movement there.

Linda McLaughlin said...

Rose, I think pollution wasn't as big a concern then, in part because people remembered the Great Depression and were just happy to have jobs. That's the attitude in the book anyway.

Sarah, in this case the zinc mill was the main culprit. It was fluorine poisoning.

Very interesting book. Thanks for dropping by.

Jennifer A. Jilks said...

This is the kind of book I like to read. We need to remember where we have come from and how we have improved society.
Well done.

Linda McLaughlin said...

I couldn't agree more, Jenn. Enjoyed your review, too.

Ellen Booraem said...

Oh my gosh, I had no idea this happened! Whenever we wish we lived in the "olden days," we should take a deep breath and be grateful. (Not that we don't still have issues. Obviously.)

The book sounds fascinating. Thanks for the review.

Linda McLaughlin said...

Ellen, the olden days weren't always so great, though it's easy to forget some of the inconveniences, like bad air, bad water, bad medicine, etc. But nostalgia has a way of casting a rosy glow on the past.