by Melissa Fay Greene ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 12, 1996
An urgent, fiery reconstruction of a tragic moment in the history of Atlanta, a moment when the combustible mix of black oppression, Jewish liberalism, and white anxiety finally blew up in an otherwise peaceful city. During the night of Oct. 12, 1958, 50 sticks of dynamite exploded under the august old Reform synagogue known simply as the Temple. It was a warning to Jacob Rothschild, the Temple's outspoken rabbi. Greene, author of the highly acclaimed Praying for Sheetrock (1991), unequivocally crowns Rothschild a hero. But he's very much a modern hero--a regular guy, a rabbi with no particular spiritual gift, who found greatness when, arriving in Atlanta in 1946, he first met Jim Crow. In sermon after sermon he harangued his congregants to fulfill the prophetic call for justice by supporting integration. Rothschild was heard with reluctance--not only by the Temple members, but by the white supremacist, anti-Semitic National States' Rights Party. Five party members were charged with the bombing, but only one, George Bright, came to trial, and a weak government case led ultimately to his acquittal. Greene does an exceptional job of portraying the social forces at work in 1958: Atlanta, a city hell-bent on progress; the Temple Jews, wealthy, assimilated, but still insecure; the city's peaceful movement toward integration; and a backlash among a small group of fanatics, whom Greene cannily portrays as embittered misfits. The present casts a constant shadow over the past here: Oklahoma City invariably comes to mind, and the courtroom antics of Bright's flamboyant defense attorney make Cochran & Co. look like amateurs. But Greene's flaw is excess. Her image-filled prose can be too rich, her historical background too digressive. And she editorializes annoyingly when people's words and actions speak clearly for themselves. Still, a powerful retelling of a crucial tragedy that, in all its elements, resonates all too loudly today; and a tribute to Rothschild--a forgotten, well, hero of the civil rights movement.
Pub Date: April 12, 1996
Page Count: 480
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1996
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