THE SACRIFICE by Pamela Ferguson


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Ferguson's Dominion (1978) fleshed out a standard business/family saga with relatively unfamiliar tobacco-biz detail. But this time she's on soggy, trampled ground--an immigrant clan's rise, via bootlegging, to distillery fortune and fame--and she brings neither vivid storytelling nor particular authenticity to a hackneyed scenario (which includes a painfully clichÉd flashback format). The immigrants here are Greeks, two brothers and a cousin, who arrive in 1907 N.Y. as teenage near-slaves (bootblacks, kitchen help), sold by their family to the local Greek padrone. But the boys--especially ambitious Dmitri and sensitive cousin Theo--hunger for learning and self-improvement. And then, when Theo is brutally raped while doing extra work for the padrone, Dmitri kills the boss and begins to take over the N.Y. Greek restaurant/tavern empire; so, with Prohibition, he and beefy brother Samos and cousin Theo (rendered impotent and bitter by the rape) begin using the importation of sacramental wine as a cover for ""the most highly integrated liquor network in America."" This much Ferguson at least sets up competently. The next 50 years, however, are presented in episodic splatters of plot that lack continuity or focus on both business and family fronts: Dmitri seeks quality booze, independence, and respectability while Theo urges an alliance with Italian mobsters (a bit of gang warfare ensues); ""asexual"" Dmitri, despite vaguely sketched-in lust for Theo, falls hard for liberated speakeasy singer Lisa, but she soon becomes bored with married motherhood (""She'd lost her essence"") and takes up with a bootleg skipper; then Theo's scheme to force Dmitri into a mob merger backfires, resulting in Lisa's death, so Dmitri kills Theo. And finally everything bunches up ineptly in a contrived 1979 crisis: the empire is threatened by a lawsuit; Dmitri's button-down heirs respond with skulduggery; a violence-haunted Dmitri nonetheless defends his own evil doings of the past. . . . All this should be strong and visceral--but, throughout, Ferguson writes summaries instead of scenes, with bare outlines instead of characters. And so, despite the gutsy material here--bribes, murder, gratuitous kinkiness (Dmitri's daughter, for no discernible reason, sleeps with her nephew)--it's an undramatic and uncommonly dry run, far less involving than such recent bootleg tales as Jerome Weidman's A Family Fortune and William Kinsolving's Born with the Century.

Pub Date: Jan. 28th, 1980
ISBN: 0595093868
Publisher: Atheneum