Tuesday, May 11, 2010

New York: the Novel

The title: New York: the Novel
The author: Edward Rutherfurd
Publication: Doubleday, 2009
Got it from: La Library

You can forgive me for not posting anything new in nearly a month when you realize I've been trying to get through this close-to-900 pages bad boy. I've been a fan of Rutherfurd's since Sarum and when this book was announced, I looked forward to it with much anticipation. I love New York, I love Rutherfurd, I love long historical family epochs that explore a city's history. What more could you ask for?

So, was it worth it? For me, yes. I knew enough about New York and its history to anticipate key moments, but not enough so that some moments came as a surprise. As ever with Rutherfurd's books, they're as much history as narrative fiction. (Hint - if you're not a fan of the info dump, I suggest you skip this one). New York follows the lives of a handful of New York families, and because it's such a multicultural city, we get families of several different nationalities: Native, Dutch, English, Irish, African, Italian, Puerto Rican, Jewish. The main family are the Masters, descended from a somewhat rascally Englishman (another Rutherfurd trope) who goes on to found a wealthy, prosperous New York clan.

The Masters are the only family that survive the entire narrative, from the time of the 17th century Dutch settlers through to the World Trade Center attacks and beyond. I was a bit disappointed that the histories of some families never got picked up again: the story of a black slave family named Hudson never gets re-introduced and we're only given a teasing glimpse of an illegitimate Native American branch of the Master family. But the new characters that Rutrherfurd introduces are so interesting that it's not hard to forgive him. Particularly exciting are the stories of the Civil War draft riots, the 19th century robber barons and the building of skyscrapers like the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings in the 1920's and 30's.

This book definitely requires a lot of attention and patience to fully appreciate, and it does slow down in some parts, particularly the descriptions of battles in the Revolutionary War. But if you have the time to devote to it, and don't mind your histories with a little action and romance thrown in, New York is a very rewarding use of your reading time.

4 1/2 Statue of Liberties out of 5.

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