This Lower East Side saga, 1903-17, has an appealing, gutsy warmth--despite characters from Second Avenue central casting:...



This Lower East Side saga, 1903-17, has an appealing, gutsy warmth--despite characters from Second Avenue central casting: Girl Revolutionist, Wife Who Strays with the Boarder, Virgin Almost Seduced by Handsome Gangster, etc. etc. The Levy family--revolutionist Moyshe, wife Hannah, daughters Sarah (firebrand) and Ruby (artistic)--escape to America from Russia in 1903, after the pogrom atrocity-death of third sister Rosa. (Beloved Bubbe stays behind ""with my dead."") In New York, then, Sarah will join the army of ""shirtwaist girls,"" eventually working for the Triangle Co., where ""the pipes were festooned with great swags of lint and dust""--and poorly paid workers are threatened and exploited. Sarah organizes workers for Local 25 of the ILGWU, is beaten and arrested by goons and police, but eventually she gets ""uptown"" help and uses a rousing oration to send 10,000 workers out in a general strike: journalist-friend Rachel (driven from home by her rabbi father) makes Sarah a heroine in the Jewish Daily Forward. And while Rachel meets and marries Denzell Sloate, son of a WASP banker (""blond, with fervent mustaches""), Sarah will suffer great losses in the 1911 Triangle Fire and find love with Avi, an idealist and Bolshevik. Meanwhile, too, sister Ruby is snatched from the lascivious clutches of ""Tricker Louis"" Florsheim just in the nick (eventually she'll become a top designer who'll marry Zionist Ben Berliner, scion of a Fifth Ave. store); and mother Hannah, certain that unhappy Moysche (who can't find his niche in the New World) no longer loves her, has a brief shameful affair with that ""landladies' delight"" Solly Fein . . . but she and Moysche will find one another again. Finally, however, the focus returns to Rachel: husband Denzell, a pilot, will die after the birth of their daughter; Denzell's lesbian sister Tish will suffer for the suffragettes; and Rachel will look ahead to a bright future with artist Roman Zack. Landmark events are convincingly reconstructed--and there are fine clamorous community occasions, from a whoop-up wedding with flying insults to a fire-escape oration to tumultuous worker meetings. All in all: an overly familiar Mott St. medley, but it moves--and it will be especially satisfying for bubbes who remember.

Pub Date: June 2, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: Morrow

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1982