ROOTS OF HONOR by Shelly Gross


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Gross's previous novels (Stardust, Havana X) were clichÉ-ridden clunkers; here, although his prose remains workmanlike at best, his latest offering (first in a promised series) features a solid story of the waxing, waning and re-waxing of a virtuous man's fortune. When his father flees their impoverished Ukrainian shtetl with a younger woman, the dutiful teen-ager Samuel Margolavitch strikes out after him, but is instead conscripted into the Czar's army. Anti-Semitism is rampant, but young Samuel gets lucky: General Bashovsky, a physician and the highest-ranking Jewish officer in the army, takes him under his wing, and eventually helps him win a place at St. Petersburg's medical school. The brilliant and diligent Samuel studies hard, and graduates at the top of his class. After sterling service in the Russo-Turkish War, he becomes a powerful member of the St. Petersburg medical establishment. But after the assassination of Alexander II, Russian anti-Semitism reaches a new pitch, and Samuel is hit with a no-win assignment: to care for the Czar's nephew, who's near death after a riding mishap. When the boy dies, Samuel is court-martialed for negligence, and the nation leaps gleefully at the chance to humiliate a once-proud Jew. Despite the best efforts of a brilliant lawyer, Samuel is convicted and barred from practicing medicine. So he and his own young son depart for America. It's hard-scrabble times while Samuel struggles to learn English, but eventually he regains a medical license, turns up a surprise half-sister, and meets a wonderful woman. Fairly run-of-the-mill Old-to-New-World stuff, spiced with intervals (the shtetl residents' struggle, the show trial) of narrative flare.

Pub Date: Aug. 6th, 1987
Publisher: Donald Fine