cover image The Lehman Trilogy

The Lehman Trilogy

Stefano Massini, trans. from the Italian by Richard Dixon. HarperVia, $35 (720p) ISBN 978-0-06-294044-5

Italian playwright Massini’s lush, sprawling novel in verse, which inspired an eponymous Broadway show, presents a fictionalized story of the Jewish immigrant Lehman family and their multigenerational role in the history of American capitalism. Heyum “Henry” Lehman, son of a cattle merchant, arrives in America from Bavaria in 1844. He enters the cotton trade in Montgomery, Ala., and his two brothers, Emanuel and Mayer, soon join him. Decades later, with enough capital to invest in banking, oil, and automobiles, the brothers groom three of their sons for places in the business. The third generation of Lehmans thrive despite the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression, and they are aided by cousins who go into politics and law. They persevere through WWII and the Red Scare under the leadership of Robert, but in the 1960s, Robert fails to prepare the company for the oncoming computer age, and after a slump in the 1980s, the family business is sold to American Express. Massini’s energetic, plainspoken epic reads like a never-ending folk ballad (“He left with America fixed in his head/landed now with America in front of him/but not just in his thoughts: before his eyes./Baruch HaShem!”). Fans of experimental fiction will find this rewarding. (June)