A Jewish reporter in the late 1930s takes on a dangerous assignment in Ashkenas’ (Aglow in the Bronx, 2012, etc.) work of historical fiction.
Harold Apple is a young, driven journalist eager to fight corruption and bring down injustice by going undercover for exposés that often put him at significant personal risk. As the book opens, he’s posing as a female prostitute as part of an investigation. Not long afterward, however, he gets one of his toughest assignments yet: namely, infiltrating the German-American Bund, an American Nazi association, in order to expose them and take them down. This is a deeply personal assignment for him, as his father is a German-born Jew who faced great discrimination as a young man in his home country and immigrated to America in order to escape it. Harold is considered the best choice for the task because, thanks to his father, he’s able to speak German fluently with a perfect accent. Despite serious worries from his family, including his fiancee, Sally, Harold takes the job and soon finds himself embedded in the Bund, in which he deals with such things as the organization’s murder of a fellow Jew. Ashkenas’ deeply researched novel unveils an aspect of Jewish-American history of which many people may be unaware. Although countless books have been written on the Holocaust in Europe, stories about the Nazi presence in America beforehand are harder to find. This one gets off to a bit of a rocky start, with the opening cross-dressing episode making it difficult to discern the tone, before settling into a more serious examination of anti-Semitism. That said, the prose is sometimes overwrought, such as a description of a Nazi flag as a “mouth, dripping scarlet gore from swastika fangs.” The overall plot also provides no real surprises along the way.
An often powerful, if predictable, look at the days leading up to one of the darkest periods in Jewish history.