THE ANGEL MAX by Peter Glassgold


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From a veteran translator, a first novel that proves to be a lavishly detailed but emotionally tepid tale of revolutionary passions and politics in late 1880s New York. The Jewish narrator, Max Kraft, begins this long political saga in Tsarist-ruled Eastern Europe, where he was born in 1866. Like other principal characters here, Max is not a credible flesh-and-blood creation but, rather, resembles a subway car into which history and ideas are stuffed and then released at the appropriate junction. As a child, Max, unlike his half-sisters Sophie and Nina and half-brother Mishka, dreamed of emigrating to America. While his siblings were soon plotting to bring down the Tsar, Max taught himself English and read the novels of Fenimore Cooper. But he can—t escape the politics of his sisters and their friends. He accidentally kills a Russian agent, acts as a courier, and once in the States, though he refuses to join their plots, becomes the financial backer—“the Angel”—of anarchists and revolutionaries. In Manhattan, he meets up with Zak, a fellow immigrant, and the two soon become wealthy builders and landlords; he marries Fanny, Emma Goldman’s cousin, and has two children; his sisters escape from Siberia and continue their work, and Mishka turns into a radical thug. Max, always struggling to stay out of trouble, reluctantly bankrolls revolutionaries like the anarchist historian Kropotkin, hosts political discussions, and witnesses the famous Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire. But neither the times, nor his relatives and friends who plot, bomb, and attempt, like Sasha Berkman, assassinations, allow him to escape. As civil war breaks out in Russia, the US begins deporting foreign radicals, and, in a close call, Max finally becomes not just a good fellow but one of the revolutionary “them.” A light fictional gloss on history, with a disappointingly heavy and melodramatic hand.

Pub Date: May 11th, 1998
ISBN: 0-15-100220-7
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998