Beginning in Poland, among a clan of Belzer Hasidim who (through marriage and accident) wobble from study to the rough commerce of chicken farming, Stampfer's richly detailed novel ultimately focuses in on Shaya Kramer, a brilliant young smicha (rabbinical ordinate) caught up in the drift to America: he leaves his wife and daughter behind, taking with him son Chatzkel and sister Esther. Chatzkel is canny, quick, and his business sense will prove a godsend to Shaya once they hit Rivington Street. Esther, once a madam in a Warsaw brothel, is herself an utterly surprising character, as removed from stereotype as possible--smart, sexually adept, but also somehow quite pure. And the beauty and appeal of Stampfer's novel derive largely from his willingness to make characters incongruous: religious people who manage to do quite well for themselves in aggressively secular situations--Shaya at his pushcart, Esther owning a Grand Street cafÃ‰, Chatzkel on the picket line. The writing is jammed with particularity. (In the first, European half of the book, the minuteness of the closeup approach is nearly claustrophobic.) The verisimilitude is startling, comparable to (though less developed than) that of Grade and Singer. So, even if Stampfer fails to bring his rich, small-scale story to a satisfying conclusion, this is vivid, tightly set Jewish fiction--which becomes very involving in the book's second half.