Beverly Swerling’s fast-paced new novel continues her saga about the Devrey and Turner families, picking up the story in New York City in 1864, at the end of the Civil War. The city is slowly creeping northward, construction has begun on the Brooklyn Bridge, and there is talk of an elevated train to help rid the city of its awful traffic. Swerling deftly fills us in on every aspect of life in the city, from the grimy tenements at the bottom of Manhattan and the splendid mansions of the wealthy along the avenues uptown, to the new concept of apartments for middle class commuters. With the introduction of steel, buildings can now rise up higher than ever and entire tracts of land are being filled with these new high-rises. Thomas Edison’s great invention illuminates the streets and then the apartments. We hear about the corruption of Boss Tweed, Jewish pawnbrokers, and the beginnings of the Italian Mafia. We read about different classes of whorehouses and how women were influential behind the scenes. We learn about the growth of big name department stores and Macy’s big breakthrough: hiring women as clerks. This novel gives a fascinating account of how New York City city came to its present-day form. Kudos to the author for educating readers with her colorful descriptions of the rich tapestry that defines this remarkable metropolis.
Miriam Bradman Abrahams is a Cuban-born, Brooklyn-raised, Long Island-residing mom. She is Hadassah Nassau’s One Region One Book chairlady, a freelance essayist, and a certified yoga instructor who has loved reviewing books for the JBC for the past ten years.