A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains: A Memoir
by William Walters and Victoria Golden
Orphan Books

"I did commit a major crime repeatedly during the time I lived with the Walters: I ran away. To me this was not a criminal act—it was a survival tactic."

This co-written memoir reveals painful truths about the effects of the Orphan Trains on Depression-era children in the United States. In its attempt to find stable homes for children away from crowded cities, the Children’s Aid Society had noble intentions in creating the Orphan Trains. However, Walters’ story reveals how a healthy placement depended on pure chance; in his case, after being separated from his co-traveling older brother, he was physically and sexually abused by his adoptive couple. After finally escaping the abusive pair (one attempt resulted in his confinement to Boys Town for a year), Walters learned life on the road by hopping freight trains and working jobs as he found them. This precarious existence became the pattern for his life, as, after serving in World War II, Walters toiled at a succession of varied occupations while he struggled to raise his family. Yet those struggles sparked and emboldened his resilience, which sends an inspirational message to readers and provides a sense of resounding hope.

The memoir’s episodic nature is balanced by Golden’s analysis in alternating chapters. Walters narrates past events, while Golden discloses future events by means of dialectic prose and how they inform Walters’ character. This alternating time sequence not only provides a satisfying organizational rhythm but produces a noteworthy sense of dramatic irony. Thus, Golden provides more than the voice of a Greek chorus. The tenuous nature of family ties is a dominant theme as we see how the Walters family dynamic breaks down from a lack of communication and breeds tragedy. Other separations are sadly beyond anyone’s control, as Walters wistfully muses after a reunion with his brother: “Events carried us far apart, and when I found my brother again, it was too late for us to understand each other.” This outstanding memoir is a fully-realized treasure.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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