MEMBERS OF THE TRIBE by Richard Kluger
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The Jew in America--Kluger's scope of inquiry is no narrower than that, even if his story proper only stretches from 1878 to 1913 and stays firmly in the environs of Savannah, Georgia. The first--and better--half is the partial autobiography of Seth Adler, who, wearing his dead father's Civil War Congressional Medal of Honor around his neck, deserts dead--end Wall Street for Savannah, hoping ""to be treated as anyone else."" And so he is, approximately, rising from store manager to apprentice lawyer to company counsel for the nascent Jubilee soda company (read: Coke), relatively satisfied with his fair-weather, gentile friends and the well-bred Georgian's policy on Jews: ""Kikes we do not welcome; gentleman Hebrews, of course."" Seth resists professionally advisable conversion; neither is he comfortable with Rabbi Weisz' ultra-Reform, Judeo-Christian ecumenism (""Maybe Weisz studied Talmud with the Klan""); but he is content. Until. A factory girl is found murdered, her innocent Jewish supervisor is arrested, Seth takes on the defense, and Kluger's second half is Seth's daughter's account of the investigation, trial, and ultimate lynching of stiff, unlovable Noah Berg: an anti-Semitic ""allGeorgia morbidity festival"" based on an actual Atlanta case. Here the distinctive, absorbing, lightly ironic quality of Seth's recollections is exchanged for the more familiar, evidence-gathering, journalistic rhythms of outrage. More heavyhanded still are the Jew-in-America discussions that pop up here and there and the epilogue--by Seth's grandson--wondering whether to vote for Jimmy Carter and listing Jews in American places of prestige. But, even though it's often unsure of whether it wants to be a novel, an essay, or true-crime history, Kluger's work is charged with character, atmosphere, and class--enough of each to engage a secular audience as well as those for whom reminders of anti-Semitism's fury are never out of place.

Pub Date: Sept. 9th, 1977
Publisher: Doubleday