Angel Max

Peter Glassgold, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $25 (464p) ISBN 978-0-15-100220-7
In the 1870s, Russia is enduring a dark night of the soul while America is enjoying the Gilded Age. In his fiction debut, Glassgold (a translator of Dutch poetry), fitfully explores the contrast between the old world and the new through the person of Max Kraft, the Russian immigrant who narrates this interesting, intelligent but not quite dynamic novel. Adopted by his wealthy stepfather after his mother dies, Max finds himself drawn into Russian politics as a courier for his stepsister's small anarchist group. When the czar is assassinated, Max gets a taste of the anti-Semitic hysteria that results. So he emigrates to New York and becomes, in a few years, a real estate tycoon. Determined to embrace his new world, Max decides that there will be no old languages for him, no Yiddish, Russian or German. But how can he escape from history? His New York turns out to be as politically divisive as Russia. Emma Goldman is a cousin of his wife, Fanny. And then there are his anarchist stepsisters and his nihilist half-brother, Mishka, who mixes revolution with blackmail. Max, partly out of sympathy and partly out of fear of extortion, contributes money to various anarchist movements. Glassgold deals knowledgeably with the history of the left in America, from the Homestead riot to the deportation of Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman in 1917. This lends the novel an edifying documentary tone, but Glassgold doesn't extract much drama from it. Max, as one of the characters says, is a cold fish, and readers may prefer the nihilists and anarchists to characters like the floundering Max. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/04/1998
Release date: 05/01/1998
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