Two Jewish orphans flee Victorian London for a life as retailers to the Confederacy. Someday someone will get a handle on the wonderful story of the Jews who brought modern merchandising to the remotest corners of Dixie and whose stores are still the place to shop everywhere from Birmingham to Memphis. Until then, we are left with the likes of this plodding, ultra-sincere but humorlessly romantic history by the author of The Proprietor's Daughter (1988), etc. Here, Nathan Solomon and his cousin Leonora, orphaned early by a train wreck, have been left to the care of their dry-goods merchant uncle Samuel, who keeps them in his Bloomsbury home but works them to exhaustion in his store. Outraged by Uncle Sam's treatment of his starving subcontractor seamstress, and tipped by their kindly aunt to uncle's secret hoard of gold pieces, Nathan and Leonora flee to New Orleans, where they are taken under the wing of a kindly Jewish cotton trader. Nathan learns all about cotton, gambling, dueling, and love. There are romances with glamorous Creoles, swordfights, plagues, and lessons in moderate democracy. The cousins learn to love the South but loathe slavery. Leonora loves Nathan but gets engaged to somebody else. Nathan loves and loses. The Civil War brings the end of the good life in the Big Easy, and everybody goes off to Atlanta to start from scratch and become the founders of a nice department store. All this is told in quaint, mid-20th-century fifth-grade textbook prose. Safe, snoozy saga.
Read full book review >