Saturday, August 9, 2014

Early 20th century American Romeo and Juliette

Marching to Zion by Mary Glickman


Magnus Bailey fell in love with Minerva Fishbein the minute he scooped this flaming haired child out of her sorrowful father's arms, to help them off the boat in St. Louis. However, Magnus didn't know how much in love he was until it was too late. With all his business savvy and aplomb, could Magnus figure out a way for a Black man and a Jewish woman to live together in peace? This is the story of "Marching to Zion" by Mary Glickman.

After reading this plot summary, you might wonder what I'm talking about when you first start reading this book. That's because Glickman starts the story elsewhere - with a young Black girl named Mags who comes to work for Fishbein's funeral home. In fact, it is almost as if Glickman started writing one story and it morphed into something else altogether. One might even think that Mags's story is almost superfluous, as it quickly fades into the background and only surfaces occasionally and superficially later on.

Despite the fact that Mags starts out having such a central role, and then becomes a minor character, she is still essential to the story. Mags seems to appear to ease us into understanding the sad Mr. Fishbein, as well as to help us understand a much bigger picture. Part of that bigger picture is how Jews were brunt of almost as much hatred and prejudice as African Americans faced. Of course, we're talking about the early part of the 20th century, and in middle southern states that had fought the north to hold onto slavery. In addition, Glickman recounts violent race riots of the times, and compares them to the pogroms that Jews fled from in Eastern Europe. This is one reason many Jews later identified (and worked for) with the Civil Rights Movement.

Politics and history aside, this is a compelling story of slightly lesser known time in American history and two people who cannot love each other freely. That Glickman melds these two elements together so nicely is a major part of its charm. One can also appreciate Glickman's ability to write dialogue with the perfect amount of dialect so that we understand everything, yet can still identify who is the Eastern European and who are the African Americans. This she does with enough local slang and Yiddish phrases to spice things up, but not too much, so that we're overwhelmed or left confused. Finally, she builds well-rounded characters that evoke the emotions we would expect to feel, with an easy-going prose style.

Despite all these positive attributes, I did have some problems with this book. One later section lagged a bit, and somewhat weighed down by passages that - although generally well written and interesting - seemed a bit overly detailed, focusing too much on minor characters for my liking. This happened again just after the major climax of the story. While this second instance was just a handful of paragraphs, I think keeping them in slightly lessened the impact of both the climax and conclusion.

Finally, I did have an underlying feeling that the title might put people off. Please don't let that dissuade you. Glickman weaves a fascinating tale with characters we can believe in, and a forceful plot line. For all this, I'd say that "Marching to Zion" by Mary Glickman deserves a solid four out of five stars and comes well recommended. 
 
 
"Marching to Zion" by Mary Glickman published November 12, 2013 by Open Road Integrated Media, Inc, is available from Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (for other eReader formats), iTunes, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an advance reader copy of this book via NetGalley. This is a version of my review on my Times of Israel blog, which also appeared on {the now defunct} Yahoo! Contributor Network.