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Foodie Lit
Irene Drago's Lavinia Wren and the Sailmakers

“Courage. Resolve. Empathy.”  These words of author Irene Drago describe what she considers the ingredients necessary for success in both one’s personal and professional life. Main character Lavinia Wren certainly can be described with all three, as she creates a successful life for herself despite being orphaned, despite the barriers again her gaining a college degree and despite her unpopular mission for judicial and prison reform. 


Lavinia Wren and the Sailmakers has romance, tragedy, success and tension.  A major thread throughout each of the plot lines is the story of the actual Maine coastal town, Thomaston, perhaps the co-protagonist with Lavinia, or Vinnie. Starting immediately after the Civil War and continuing past WWI, shipbuilding and sailmaking are the two main industries of Thomaston that ebb and flow with the economy, wars and technological advancements. It was known as “a town that went to sea,” because a native daughter wrote a book about Thomaston by that name. 

2023 Next Generation Indie Book Awards Finalist, Regional Fiction

The beauty of the ships and their sails are set amidst the love and fear of the sea. The lives that are supported by this industry are described in detail throughout the experiences and feelings of the characters. In addition, as the years pass, the types of ships and sail used were modified and improved.  Ships without sails were developed and an entire industry changed so that by WWII, there were no more sailing ships of war or commerce  produced, only smaller sail boats for pleasure.


There is a certain romance associated with the sea, its voyages to exotic shores and the risks taken, Irene thinks, much akin to astronauts heading into the unknown. Irene shared, “Without a doubt, there was little romance aboard those wooden-hull vessels, but at times it was a thrilling ride, and they did have the opportunity to visit foreign shores, explore different cultures, meet diverse people, and hear different languages. In many ways the Yankee sea captains, and their crews, were America’s first pioneers.”


One of  the lessons history and the author teach is the need for change. Without change, many boat building companies would have failed, lost money and their employees,  jobs.


The names of the owners of these shipbuilding companies and the history of Thomaston are true. Their innovations driven by the need for change caused the owner of a ship building enterprise, Charlie Flint, to create a conglomerate from other industries, International Business Machines Company, that eventually became IBM.


The other history here is the story of Lavinia Wren, who also illustrates the need for change, although on a personal level. Her father was killed in the Civil War and her mother died shortly after of Yellow Fever. The young orphaned Lavinia had to adapt to living with her aunt and uncle and to fighting battles to be educated, to be a wife and mother and have a career. Sensitive to justice in the world, the prison near her home caused Vinnie to dedicate much time to judicial and prison reform. “Lavinia and her friends and family experience tremendous change, and yet they survive and thrive because of their ability to pivot, adapt, learn, and love.” 


Irene told me, “Lavinia and many of the women in my novel are women ahead of their time. Unlike many women of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Lavinia attends college and works at a law office. Her daughter Corinne becomes a midwife, and her son’s wife is a Harvard trained physician.”


Despite being ahead of her time, Vinnie is so realistic that I had to ask Irene if Vinnie was a real person! She is a fictional character, created totally by Irene.


The town of Thomaston, in the novel and in reality is closely knit and supportive. When Irene launched her novel in Thomaston, descendants of those she wrote about and those living in Thomaston today attended. She has done her research about Thomaston and the ship building industry very well, creating an excellent historical novel. Small towns are often considered the heart of America and certainly Thomaston, as created by Irene Drago, is a wonderful example of the best of America.

Lavinia often bakes a Lemon Cake to take to family gatherings and to funerals.

Here’s a version that I hope she would like!

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