Edward Rutherfurd,
New York
(Ballantine, 2009)

The test of a novel is whether it makes you care about its characters.

As in his previous epics, Edward Rutherfurd uses a number of fictional families in a multi-generational format to tell the story of New York. His concentration in this was on the wealthy and elite Master family, and I have to admit, some of them left me cold and even bored. I might have preferred following the storyline of characters who might better have illustrated the multi-cultured nature of the city.

Rutherfurd's purpose, however, was to emphasize through this one family the importance of finance in making New York what it is today and creating the means for all the culture and other opportunities available because of this material factor. The comparisons of the 1907 and 1929 stock market crashes to the more recent financial crisis are striking.

As in his other tomes, Rutherfurd shows his mastery of research, results of which he skillfully injects into the storyline without impeding its flow. Because they are fictional, he is able to have his characters interact with an array of actual historical characters as he traces the growth of the city from its rural beginnings in the 17th century down to the tragic events of 9/11. There are exciting events along the way -- the draft riots during the Civil War and the horror of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, to name a few. Nor does he evade the evils of the slave trade and its connection to New York, or the prejudices against other ethnic lines in later years.

A closing scene where a scion of the Master family visits Strawberry Fields in Central Park with his daughter and muses on the future of the city is most affecting.

I've been a fan of Rutherfurd since Sarum, his first novel, which remains my favorite along with London. Though not perfect, New York is a worthy addition to his oeuvre.

book review by
John R. Lindermuth

26 March 2011

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