Pinto and Sons

Leslie Epstein, Author
Leslie Epstein, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $19.95 (419p) ISBN 978-0-395-54704-5
Reviewed on: 10/31/1990
Release date: 11/01/1990
The eponymous protagonist of Epstein's ( King of the Jews ) nightmarishly imaginative new novel is an Hungarian-Jewish immigrant to Boston in 1845, where he for a short time attends Harvard Medical College, until an ill-fated experiment cuts short his career. His ``sons'' are a ragged band of Modoc Indians whom he encounters when he joins the California gold rush, opening a general store in the town of Yreka. The Modocs have been pitilessly exploited by a mine owner--one of Adolph Pinto's classmates at Harvard--and Pinto becomes mentor to the youngsters of the tribe, instructing them via his only textbook: a volume of Robert Burns's collected poems. That the Native American ``savages'' begin speaking in a broad Scots brogue is only one of the many ironies in this darkly comic picaresque saga. Pinto is an eternal optimist who keeps coming up with ideas to benefit the human race--only to have them boomerang with tragic consequences. His naive belief that scientific progress will create paradise on earth inevitably involves him in a series of cataclysmic events, which Epstein conveys in searing scenes of apocalyptic horror and cinematic intensity. (Some are based on fact: viz., the unspeakably brutal conditions inside the Neptune Mine, which led to the Modoc rebellion of 1860.) On the other hand, some readers will not be engaged by passages invoking the laws of physics and higher mathematics by which the supremely rational but deludedly quixotic Pinto arrives at his scientific discoveries. At the end of this action-filled, helterskelter tale, Epstein leaves his hero bereft of his ``sons'' yet still confident of the eventual perfectibility of the human race. (Nov.)
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