ELLIS ISLAND by Fred Mustard Stewart


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In this stout Ragtime-era saga, five emigrants arrive at the Ellis Island immigration center in 1907 after leaving miseries abroad: Jake Rubin, survivor of a Russian pogrom; Brigit and Georgiana O'Donnell, sisters fleeing as a result of Brigit's involvement in the Fenian assassination of a British toff; handsome Marco Santorelli, from barren peasant soil; and Tomas Banicek, escaping army conscription in Bohemia. And, by the fadeout in 1917, all five will have risen to some fame and some fortune: Marco will be a N.Y. Congressman; both girls will be happily wed; Jake will be America's foremost songwriter; and Banicek will become a legendary hero (posthumously, alas) of Labor. Along the way, however, there'll be all sorts of problematic fun--though only a little of the character-intertwining so dear to the hearts of period-pop fans. The main crossover involves poor Georgiana, who is sent back to Ireland by Dr. Carl Travers (Brigit's husband-to-be) because of her trachoma affliction; when Georgiana returns, blind, to the USA (thanks to her Uncle Casey, a trucker-king and NYC politico), ambitious Marco falls in love with her--though he will repeatedly neglect/dump her while running afoul of Uncle Casey, playing the gigolo to mature actress Maud Charteris, and then marrying Vanessa Phipps, radical daughter of a powerful Senator. (The marriage is miserable, with Vanessa careening into a lesbian affair and dreary death.) Meanwhile, Jake is making it big in ragtime but unwisely weds lovely meanie Nellie Byfield, the Thrush from Flushing: they have a retarded daughter (who'll die); Jake begins to pine for delicate Violet Weiler, whose snooty, German/Jewish-elite mother disapproves; divorce and social acceptance are hard-won. And, also meanwhile, happily married Tom, down in West Virginia, bucks a ruthless mining boss and makes the supreme sacrifice. A cheerful, commercial melting-potboiler--with period fads and the charm of ragtime lyrics (""with my sweet ragtime Tchaikowsky,/ I'll be glad to share my house key""), but without either the vast scope or the melodramatic churning that made Stewart's Century a pulpy blockbuster.

Pub Date: Feb. 12th, 1982
Publisher: Morrow