A love story about two people from vastly different worlds gets off to an excruciatingly slow start in Simons’ prequel to The Bronze Horseman trilogy.
When Sicilian-born immigrants Gina and Salvo Attaviano arrive in Boston with their mother in 1899, the family meets a couple of 21-year-old entrepreneurs who provide food, lodging and advice before the Attavianos settle in with relatives in nearby Lawrence. The nephew of a Civil War hero, Ben Shaw is animated and passionate about bananas, his desire to build a canal in Panama to promote international trade and, once he sets eyes on her, 14-year-old Gina. Harry Barrington is the polar opposite of Ben. The son of a wealthy property owner, he’s quiet and bookish and has been dating Alice, the daughter of his father’s business partner, for years. When Ben invites Gina to attend anti-imperialistic meetings sponsored by his feminist mother, Gina sneaks to Boston each week—but it’s neither the politics nor Ben that interest her. She’s attracted to Harry and does everything in her power to spend time with him, including convincing Harry to invest in two restaurants. Although Harry’s increasingly drawn to Gina, he still tries to do as society dictates, and he and Gina eventually go their separate ways as Ben heads to Panama to work on the new canal. In the ensuing years, Harry pursues his doctorate while maintaining his relationship with Alice, but a chance meeting with Gina steers his life in a new direction. The two begin to attend speeches given by anarchist Emma Goldman, socialist Eugene Debs, and other political and social activists, and Harry starts to reassess his own thoughts and feelings; so much so, in fact, that random fragments of the protestors’ speeches run willy-nilly through Harry’s thoughts as his own life changes course.
Unfortunately, Simons misses a good opportunity to present a strong romance and clearly connect its characters to many of the prevalent issues in early-20th-century America; although the love story is adequate, the sociopolitical elements in the narrative are too random to be meaningful.