The fates of two Jewish families intersect when they immigrate to America in Lubars’ (The Monterey Marauders, 2014) second novel.
In 1913, the job prospects for promising young teacher Chatzke Rozan are dwindling, as more and more of his fellow Jews are leaving Warsaw for America. At the insistence of his wife, Leah, he sails for Ellis Island himself and soon builds a life in the Bronx. However, World War I and numerous financial setbacks trap Leah and their children, Sarah and Aaron, in Poland for several more years. When the Rozans finally arrive in the United States, Aaron quickly leaves the family and takes up with communist sympathizers, while Sarah refuses a series of suitors before settling on bad-boy Brooklynite Abe Landers. The book’s most harrowing, moving passages recount the tragic deaths of Abe’s father and siblings as they struggle to escape Russia for America, where Abe trades school for pool halls and the company of low-level gangsters. He eventually marries Sarah in 1925 and gets a steady bank job, but his restlessness soon leads him back to the pool rooms. Sarah, meanwhile, lives with her husband’s violent mood swings and her own health complications. In addition to these domestic dramas, the Rozan and Landers clans grapple with the Great Depression, and later, the Holocaust, which they hopelessly read about from the safety of America’s shores. Lubars recreates these historical periods with great care and accuracy, and he has a particular talent for showing the optimism of immigrants. For example, the Statue of Library’s torch, one says, “means that everybody in America will be kept warm.” He also effectively shows how such good feelings can eventually flame out when faced with America’s harsh realities. As the novel goes on, however, it consistently relies upon the same narrative devices—particularly Abe’s tiresome misbehavior and the distances that both families travel when they need, must repay, or have been scammed out of money.
An account of 20th-century immigration and assimilation that’s sometimes engrossing, but at other times laborious.