CRESCENT CITY by Belva Plain
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Plain has set her latest saga in and around Civil War New Orleans, and her gutsy heroine and self-sacrificing/self-serving men wing toward their predictable destinies pretty much on automatic pilot, Howard Fast-fashion;still, like Fast's sagas, it's all comfortably familiar. Ferdinand Raphael flees his poverty-stricken home for the New World--New Orleans--after the pogrom death of his wife Hannah, with 15-year-old David and nine-year-old Miriam. And Ferdinand becomes not only a luxury-loving cosmopolite, leaving his orthodox Jewish faith, but marries non-Jewish widow Emma. Meanwhile son David, who makes a lifelong friend in shipboard acquaintance Gabriel, becomes increasingly disturbed by his father's airy attitude toward his religion; also he's uneasy with the institution of slavery but learns gradually to curb his tongue--while planning a career in medicine, with unformulated but determined plans to help the slaves. As for Miriam, she's pretty but confused, marrying in her late teens: alas, businessman hubby Eugene Mendes turns out to be callous, autocratic--and sex is loathsome. (Miriam will give birth to twins; Mendes has another child by a local quadroon beauty.) Eventually, then, David (despite Gabriel's arguments about lawful activism) will join an underground group of white abolitionists and Negroes (doing exactly what is not quite clear); in a raid, he shoots and kills his stepmother's son-in-law. So it's up North for David--via a hair's-breadth escape, engineered by Gabriel and Miriam--while domestic catastrophes and Civil War-fare rumbles: papa Ferdinand goes bankrupt; Mendes is Minded by a disgruntled customer; and then Mendes finds out about Miriam's lover, dashing AndrÉ. (In punishment he takes away from Miriam management of his business--which she's been handling with aplomb.) During the war, Miriam heads a household of two incapacitated men, a handful of frightened women, children, and slaves. There'll be raids by both Northern and Southern toughs; hunger and danger; family deaths. Gabriel and David heroically soldier on--on different sides. Meanwhile, Miriam is carrying on--but not with AndrÉ, who reveals his true nature. . . and at last she finds true love. A part-Jewish dollop of GWTW--decarbonated but saleable.

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 1984
Publisher: Delacorte