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The fifth from American-born Ragen (The Ghost of Hannah Mendes, 1998, etc.), a resident of Israel for the past 30 years, draws on her childhood to tell the poignant story of Sara, a young girl who also grew up in low-income housing in New York City.

Chains Around the Grass serves as cautionary tale about men who dream big while scanting the blessings they already have, like loving families. Russian-born David Markowitz imagines “fitting in seamlessly. . . . Being a regular guy . . . and American,” which, he thinks, requires his being rich and successful. In 1953, convinced that fulfillment is just around the corner, he sells his small store and buys a yellow cab, to be the first of a fleet. But as Dave begins building his company, he decides the family should move from their house in New Jersey to the cheaper projects in New York. Wife Ruth, elder son Jesse, daughter Sara, and baby Louis, not enthralled with the move, try to adjust. For the first year, life isn’t too bad: the business thrives, the neighbors are friendly. Then a rougher element moves in, Dave is mugged, and, after befriending the mysterious Mr. Hesse, sells the cab and invests the money with Hesse, who claims to be a financial consultant. Instead, he absconds, and Dave dies shortly afterward during minor surgery. As Ruth struggles to hold the family together, six-year-old Sara attends the local Jewish school and finds consolation in religion and education, while Jesse drops out to start a business career—but at 16 is overwhelmed by his responsibilities and breaks down. The family survives, but no one can forget David: the beguiling figure who remains greatly loved even when unwittingly inflicting pain and suffering.

More a detailed portrait than a riveting tale of a family caught in the undertow of a fatal obsession.

Pub Date: Jan. 28th, 2002
ISBN: 1-902881-53-2
Page count: 260pp
Publisher: Toby Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2001


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