The Pursuit of Happiness

Anne Richardson Roiphe, Author Summit Books $22.45 (0p) ISBN 978-0-671-66754-2
Proving that generational novels need not be commercial dross, Roiphe ( A Season for Healing ) has produced an imaginatively plotted and dextrously written saga that follows the Gruenbaum family from a Polish shtetl to New York's Lower East Side and then up the social and economic ladder. Rich in atmosphere and detail, boasting solidly realized characters drawn with empathy but with unsentimental depiction of their faults and foibles, the story is told in a series of random flashbacks, interspersed with the narrator's tart, ironic asides: ``Reader: Do not assume that immigrants are all the same and that all family stories begin on a boat and end up with a safe-deposit box at Chase Manhattan.'' Fleeing poverty and pogroms, pious tailor Moses Gruenbaum, his plucky wife Naomi and their three children arrive here in 1880; after enduring years of penury, their son Isaac founds a suit-manufacturing company, and the family's fortunes begin an upward climb, interrupted by numerous setbacks and tragedies. Some of the Gruenbaum descendents are corrupted by wealth; others feel the need to assimilate to ensure social status. Tracing the lives of five fractious generations, Roiphe acknowledges the impartial hand of fate that sometimes strikes down the innocent and rewards the wicked. A teaser throughout the narrative, whose answer is not revealed until the last page, concerns the condition of a young woman undergoing emergency surgery in a Jerusalem hospital. Roiphe makes good use of the social history of each decade, but her major achievement is a panoply of memorable, thoroughly engaging characters. (June)
Reviewed on: 06/03/1991
Release date: 06/01/1991
Mass Market Paperbound - 978-0-446-36334-1
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