Just as the Israelites fled Egypt for Sinai while chased by Pharoah’s chariots, so did Eastern European Jewry flee for the promised land of America, in many cases chased by pogroms. Alan Fleishman’s novel follows Avi Schneider from 1905 Russia to the immigrant’s dream — and nightmare — of turn-of-the-century New York City and then to the post-Holocaust world. We witness his personal failings and triumphs as he starts a business, brings his family from Russia and tries to acclimate to the New World. Throughout it all, he is assisted by a kind, young rabbi and the successful immigrants who came before him. Fleishman weaves the continuing struggles of Eastern European Jews into the story, focusing on Avi desperately attempting to convince, and then finally rescue, his brother and family from a devolving Russia. The desire of his brother, Lieb, to cling to the Motherland and Avi’s promise to his dying mother to rescue her son form the crux of the action.
The novel is a good read for those unfamiliar with the various struggles of immigrants, both personal and in the realm of business, during the first half of the 20th century. Assimilation was a constant pressure in America, with success often measured by how “American” one could become. As we live Avi’s life with him, we are taught the values of honor, of devotion to family and of bonds that even when frayed last a lifetime.