cover image Union Square

Union Square

Meredith Tax. William Morrow & Company, $18.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-688-05069-6

Its ambitious background notwithstanding, this hefty historical-political novel chats along in a cosy, familial tone, reducing cosmic problems to life-size proportions. The reader is tossed slam-bang into a mostly Russian-born family of socialist workers and confirmed Marxists, forced by pogroms to flee to America's lower East Side, where their political divisiveness continues. Although we follow with interest the fortunes of various inlawsamong them the Berliners, wealthy German-Jewish owners of a department storethe focus is on Hannah and Moyshe Levy and their daughter Sarah, who has married Marxist apologist Avi Spector. The ideological rift between the Levys and the Spectors widens when, at the onset of the Depression, Moyshe sides with the Bundists while Avi supports the Stalinists. As Sarah campaigns for unions and women's right to decent pay, her sister Ruby, married to Ben Berliner, becomes a force in the fashion industry. Woven into the fabric of domestic activism is the dream of a Jewish state in Palestine. At the same time, polemical art, modeled on Guernica and the Diego Rivera murals, begins to blossom and to provide an outlet for the fiercely suppressed memories of murder in the Pale. While the narrative is sometimes disjointed and the characters stereotypical, the breadth and drama of history help to create an engrossing story. (October)