Saturday, September 7, 2013

New York by Edward Rutherfurd

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I grew up in northern New Jersey, so the history of New York is fascinating to me. Edward Rutherfurd tells the story of people living in the city, starting in the 17th century when the settlement was called New Amsterdam and was governed by Peter Styverson and ending in the 21st century when Rudy Giuliani was mayor. The novel focuses on the Master family, but also looks at other families whose lives were intertwined with the Masters. I thought Rutherfurd did an excellent job of mixing history with fiction.

When I lived in the New York area, I went to the city often. I loved the museums, the theater scene from the small groups in store front theaters to the Broadway shows, and I went to countless concerts in Central Park and at the Fillmore East. I spent hours in the libraries, especially the main branch on Fifth Ave and the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. But despite loving the city I didn't know much about its history. I had no idea about the early connection to the slave trade, Spanish Harlem was just a song to me, and I knew next to nothing about the financial district, especially during the years leading up to the depression. New York covered those aspects of the city in a way that held my attention. I loved the book for that.

I saw in some of the other reviews complaints that Rutherfurd did not spend time with the African American families living in the twentieth century. He did cover their experience, especially during the pre civil war years, but those families were only mentioned briefly during modern times. I don't agree with that criticism. Rutherfurd chose to write a story about the Master family and if he left their story for too long the plot would have lost its continuity. He covered the Italians and the Irish during the years when those nationalities were the bulk of the immigrants. The African Americans were in the city from early on, just as the English were. Another novel about their experience in New York would be equally fascinating, but this novel was primarily about the English experience. Perhaps he could have spent more time with the Puerto Ricans families, given their importance to modern New York, but he did touch on that experience and I learned a good deal. He discussed the Lenape Native Americans, but as with many of the other groups that section was from the point of view of the European (Dutch) settlers.

My chief complaint comes down to a single word. Here's the line from late in the book:

He'd been fortunate to get a low number in the lottery and avoided the draft.

The word I object to is low. Rutherfurd was talking about the 1970s here and anyone who lived through that period knows that a low number meant you were going to war, not the other way around. The problem with this mistake is it stops the reader who knows its wrong and casts doubt on the accuracy of the rest of the book. But I'm still giving this book a five star rating. Overall, I loved it.

No comments:

Post a Comment