Kevin Baker, Author HarperCollins Publishers $26 (519p) ISBN 978-0-06-019309-6
Taking place in turn-of-the-century New York City, Baker's splashy novel features gangsters, midgets, feminist strikers, the Lower East Side, Coney Island, Freud's trip to America and the infamous Triangle Factory fire. It's a powerful, deeply moving epic, an earthier, rowdier, more inclusive Ragtime that rings beautiful changes on the familiar themes of the immigrant experience and the unfulfilled promise of the American Dream. Baker juggles subplots that reflect different ethnic and cultural realities: resilient, independent-minded sweatshop seamstress Esther Abramowitz rebels against her caustic Russian-Jewish ex-rabbi father to become a union organizer; Irish-American state senator Big Tim Sullivan, a corrupt Tammany Hall boss, rules the city through bribes, gangs and cops on the take; hoodlum Gyp the Blood (aka Lazar Abramowitz), who is Esther's estranged brother, puts out a hit on her boyfriend, Kid Twist (Josef Kolyika), an Eastern European refugee who arrived as a stowaway on the same ocean liner that, in this scenario, brings Freud and Jung to New York on a trip to promote psychoanalysis. Meanwhile, over in Dreamland, the vast Coney Island amusement park, the philosophically minded Trick the Dwarf courts another sideshow attraction, Mad Carlotta, a midget who thinks she's the Empress of Mexico. Baker, author of the baseball novel Sometimes You See It Coming and chief researcher on Harry Evans's The American Century, gives readers amazingly vivid renderings of the criminal underworld, prostitution, machine politics, Jewish immigrant life, the nascent women's rights and labor movements. Cultured Old World elitism comically collides with raucous democratic America as Freud gets lost in Harlem, has bizarre erotic dreams, falls out with Jung and has a nasty adventure in Dreamland. The churning subplots do get creaky (e.g., Esther's implausible love for a gangster), the colorful seediness often seems like gratuitous crowd-pleasing and the novel walks a tightrope between romantic sentimental fantasy and hard-boiled realism. Nevertheless, one is tempted to call this grandly entertaining saga some kind of populist masterpiece, as Baker gauges the myth of the egalitarian American melting-pot against the corruption, economic exploitation and racism of a cutthroat society. 100,000 first printing; $300,000 ad/promo; audio to HarperAudio; author tour. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
Show other formats
Mass Market Paperbound - 657 pages - 978-0-06-093121-6
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-694-52108-1
Hardcover - 978-0-06-099580-5
Paperback - 672 pages - 978-0-06-093480-4
Mass Market Paperbound - 978-0-06-103082-6
Paperback - 657 pages - 978-0-06-085272-6
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