Thursday, September 17, 2015

REVIEW: A Tale of Two Citizens by Elyce Wakerman

A Tale of Two Citizens
by Elyce Wakerman

Publisher: Yucca Publishing
Page Count: 376
Release Date: Feb 17, 2015
Format: Hardcover

How got: free copy from publisher

First attention getter: publisher's email


From GoodReads:

A lie is the only thing that can get twenty-year-old Harry Himelbaum past the cold scrutiny of Ellis Island’s immigration official, Will Brown. A lie that locks them in a deadly battle.

It is 1929. At home, economic depression and dust storms ravage America, and abroad, the goose step of Nazism is intensifying. Widespread fear of “the other” has reached a fever pitch. Against this tumultuous backdrop, two families share the spotlight in this sweeping saga: the Himelbaums of Poland, and the Browns of Iowa.

All Harry Himelbaum wants is to live somewhere happy, and to send for the wife and child he must deny having. But Will Brown stands in the way. Will is a young, zealously patriotic Iowa lawyer, who has dedicated himself to staunchly upholding the nation’s laws and keeping his America pure. Little does he expect that his childhood sweetheart and new wife, Barbara, would form a romantic attachment for Harry, the man he’s sworn to keep out.

Based on the true story of the author’s father, this heart-wrenching clash of love and loyalties is a picture of an America torn between being a symbol of hope for immigrants and a proud nation fighting to re-create itself.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

Wow what a story! This book surprised me in the intensity and suspense of a young man’s journey to become a citizen and bring his family to safety versus the American immigration system/bureaucracy. I found myself compelled to move from chapter to chapter rapidly, not wanting to stop for such mundane things as sleep and work. The author has a real gift for balancing the slower character-building scenes with the more intense hiccups in immigration and obstacles that find their way into Harry’s way.

This universal story of immigration (most everyone in the country had ancestors that came here in some fashion) to the US and the obstacles they faced was a fascinating one to explore. The questioning on Ellis Island, one wrong answer a decade ago tripping up future plans, and the added pressure mounting due to the rise of the Nazis and persecution all play a part in ratcheting up the tension for our characters. Every new development made my interest grow more and more.

I also really liked how relevant all this is to today’s political situation. It makes one stop and think, to see the sides of today’s issue from both sides, in this book that personalizes both. It was actually one of the things that made me take interest in the title when the publisher approached me for a review, that and the time period.

I loved all the characters, in all their nuances. There was enough of a balance between good and bad qualities that all of them were immediately personable and believable as real. I even liked Will to a degree even though he sort of read as the villain of the story to me. Harry especially won my heart, which is what I think the author intended. I loved how resourceful he was, how dedicated to his Raizel and son, and how focused he was on building a better life for himself and his family. His various struggles to build a business, bring his family over, and then fight to keep his American citizenship kept me enthralled.

I loved the time period explored. Before the whole explosion of warfare and when putting food on the table was the hardest thing to do, the author gives us a window into a world slowly going to hell and making way for tyrants and persecution in all its forms. I loved that we got to explore this deterioration on both sides of the Atlantic, in Poland, New York, and Washington DC. The added pressure on Jews to get out and the added road blocks put up in front of them made for riveting reading. It also added more heaviness with the reader’s knowledge of what awaited those Jews who were left behind.

The only real hitch I have for this title was the ending. We have a massive buildup of tension in Harry’s immigration status, with several sessions of questions, insinuations of wrong-doing, and allegations of criminal activity. One would expect from all that build-up a truly epic confrontation in the end between Harry’s political backers and the immigration service agent, Will Brown and his associates. A David/Goliath confrontation if there was one, which is suggested multiple times throughout the book.

However, what we got was such a wimpy, lackluster court session that I was left stunned. Where are the dramatic speeches, skirmishes between Harry and Will, and defenses of Harry’s character? We get some, but I felt like there wasn’t nearly enough to justify all that build-up we had. Then we jump years ahead and just a few mentions of the fates of those left behind before Harry is off to build a new life. Wait, what??!! Nothing else?? I seriously was craving more resolution than I got.

Despite an ending that will make you scream, this book is a dang good read. Subject matter that is relevant to today’s world as much as back then, characters that keep you engrossed, and a spell-binding story all combine to a fantastic book. I would highly recommend this book to readers of historical fiction everywhere, even with that ending.

Note: Book provided for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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