by Allen Hoffman ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1997
Like its predecessor, Small Worlds (1996), Hoffman's second in a series limns an affectionate and affecting portrayal of Polish Jews resettled in 20th-century America. The year is 1920, and the settling St. Louis--specifically, ""the world of Prohibition and syndicated crime and fixed ball games."" Inhabitants of the village of Krimsk, on the Russian border, once again dominant, include the ""Krimsker Rebbe"" Yaakov Moshe Finebaum, whose assimilation into his new homeland takes surpassingly strange forms (the sight of ""blood-red"" Mississippi waters evokes memories of the biblical Israelites in Egypt, and the Rebbe's appointment to the Governor's Council on Indian Affairs has him wondering if these American natives are in fact descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes), and ""puritanical"" junk-dealer Boruch Levi Rudman, determined to bully his family and neighbors into upholding their culture's dignity. Hoffman paces his amusing narrative beautifully, introducing (that is, re-introducing) ""new"" characters at strategically spaced intervals. The story's main events occur on a busy Sabbath day, during which the unregenerate Matti Sternweiss, a professional athlete whose canny intelligence has elevated him to the position of starting catcher for the hometown St. Louis Browns, must decide whether to go through with his scheme to ""throw"" a crucial game to the visiting Detroit Tigers--and must, at the crucial moment, face the malignant specter of the great Ty Cobb, spikes flashing, speeding toward him at home plate. Several subplots are neatly worked in (including a beauty that involves Boruch Levi's lustful sister Malka and her submissive captive husband), as are two haunting images from the Krimskers' European past: a dream of burning cats, and the vision of a mail plane crashing to earth. A wistful last scene, set in 1936 after the resolution of these crises (and the demise of Prohibition), clearly points toward a continuation of their story. First-rate fiction: reminiscent as noted of such precursors as Sholom Aleichem, but possessed of distinctive individual strengths and firmly rooted in its characters' strange new land and even stranger adventures.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997
Page Count: 296
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1997
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