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Stavros Topouzoglou, the Anatolian Greek youth who suffered and sweated and hacked his way to turn-of-the-century New York in America America (1962), is now followed through his prime--from 1909 to 1919. And it's Kazan's prime too--because his storytelling powers have grown dramatically over those 20 years, from the effective but thin scenario-play of America America to this rich, ugly, funny tapestry of a novel. The book begins staggeringly well, with 32-year-old Stavros, bowlegged and violent and virile, awaiting the arrival of his parents, brothers, and sisters--an arrival for which he has labored for ten years as a salesman/errand-boy at the Sarrafian Oriental Rug Co.; but father Isaac is not aboard when the ship arrives, having died just before the voyage (after yet another humiliation at the hands of the Anatolians' Turk overlords). And from that moment on, Stavros' foundations--the Greek family traditions--will start crumbling, slowly, agonizingly to be replaced by American or would-be American values. His old mother Vasso reveals her scorn for the dead father--an outrage to the notion of Greek-widow behavior. Stavros' seven younger brothers and sisters--forced to do rug repairs in their stifling apartment--rebel against his patriarchy: one runs off to a disastrous marriage, one dies (perhaps from exhaustion), one sails off to fight the Turks, all of them grow to hate him. At the rug store Stavros (a.k.a. ""Joe Arness"") writhes with humiliation when the WASP salesmen take over his customers, when he's treated as a menial--though he idolizes ice-cream-suited owner Fernand Sarrafian, an apparent model of dignified, tradition-proud assimilation in America. And the culture clash is most fiercely (if also most routinely) captured in Stavros' slow-to-ignite affair with beautiful Anglo-Saxon Althea--the headstrong, fickle daughter of the store's terminally ill manager (who loathes Stavros). All these conflicts allow Kazan to create set-piece after set-piece: exquisitely embarrassing moments of frustration, flayed pride (the store manager puts a wet glass down on the revered snapshot of Stayres' father), reined-in fury. And throughout, while Stavros relentlessly pursues his goal of financial independence (even becoming something of a whore in the process), the roaring pidgin-English dialogue and the spectacular period detail (rugs, rallies, sweatshops) add texture to an essentially simple, grim parable. Not for the usual family-saga audience, perhaps; and a few of the subplots (the Greek freedom-fighters especially) are repetitiously belabored. But rarely has the immigrant/American-Dream phenomenon been so unromantically, uncompromisingly dramatized: a raw, sweaty, raging novel with a powerful, uncontrived, cumulative impact.

Pub Date: July 16th, 1982
Publisher: Knopf