The Harbor

Ernest Poole. Penguin, $16 trade paper (335p) ISBN 978-0-14-310644-9
Set in Brooklyn at the turn of the 20th century, this seminal work by Poole (1880–1950), the first recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, is a Künstlerroman chronicling socialist awakening. The teeming harbor of Billy’s childhood is ominous and fascinating, both drawing him out to cause trouble with scrappy harbor boys and repelling him back to his mother, a lover of art and justice. At college he meets intellectually ravenous Joe Kramer, and again in Paris, where Billy pursues writing and Joe covers the Russian revolution for a newspaper. Following his mother’s death, Billy returns home to find that his father has lost their fortune trading goods on the dock he ran at the harbor. Forced to find work, Billy abandons literary idealism, winning a newspaper job and, in time, the heart of childhood friend Eleanor Dillon. Billy adopts Eleanor’s powerful father’s faith in Wall Street and “big men” just as the increasingly radical Joe begins to haunt the harbor as a labor organizer. Billy and Eleanor are soon embroiled in a strike that gives harbor workers their first taste of collective power and instills in Billy a purpose that had been missing in his earlier literary efforts. One hundred years later, this precursor to works like The Jungle raises still relevant questions about the distribution of wealth, the prevalence of corruption, and the complicated interplay between family, livelihood, and political conviction. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/24/2011
Release date: 12/27/2011
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