In this debut novel, a Croatian immigrant forges a life for himself at the start of the 20th century.
When 16-year-old Martin Petrovich leaves his hometown of Dubrovnik on a ship bound for the United States, he knows that he may never see his parents and siblings again. An uncle he has never met is waiting to give him a job in San Francisco. Then Martin can send money home to his relatives. Under his uncle’s tutelage and full of his own ambition, Martin resolves to work hard and learn everything he can in hopes of establishing a business of his own. Yet soon the devastating earthquake of 1906 brings the city to its knees, destroying buildings and taking the lives of many loved ones. In the aftermath, Martin settles in Watsonville, a California town that holds fewer painful memories. Over the course of the novel’s ambitious scope, King neatly summarizes many important political and cultural moments of the time. Martin is affable and honorable, verging on excessively flawless. During his long and rich life, readers see him pour his soul into opening a restaurant, struggle with the law during Prohibition, serve as a naval convoy escort during World War I, and watch his own sons enlist in World War II. A special virtue of the story is the author’s focus on the diversity of the Watsonville population and the changing sentiments of the American public toward specific nationalities. In addition to the large band of Croatian American characters the protagonist befriends, standouts in the cast include Ken Nakamura, a Japanese American community leader whose family is placed in an internment camp, and Hector Lopez, a Mexican laborer who helps Martin maintain Ken’s farm in his absence. Through these relationships, King and her players advocate for universal kindness and acceptance of marginalized groups. A slogan created to unite the town summarizes Martin’s own outlook best: “Strength in diversity. Unity in cooperation.” Although the writing occasionally sounds very similar to a history textbook, Martin’s tale is full of perseverance, integrity, and humanity.
An American success story that deftly emphasizes the country’s multicultural heritage.