Review: The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros
Chicago, 1893. For Alter Rosen, this is the land of opportunity, and he dreams of the day he’ll have enough money to bring his mother and sisters to America, freeing them from the oppression they face in his native Romania.
But when Alter’s best friend, Yakov, becomes the latest victim in a long line of murdered Jewish boys, his dream begins to slip away. While the rest of the city is busy celebrating the World’s Fair, Alter is now living a nightmare: possessed by Yakov’s dybbuk, he is plunged into a world of corruption and deceit, and thrown back into the arms of a dangerous boy from his past. A boy who means more to Alter than anyone knows.
Now, with only days to spare until the dybbuk takes over Alter’s body completely, the two boys must race to track down the killer—before the killer claims them next.
Death lurks around every corner in this unforgettable Jewish historical fantasy about a city, a boy, and the shadows of the past that bind them both together.
I got the book from the library.
I stumbled upon this book by reading Linda’s review on GR. I never heard of this book or this author before. This book surely hit a nerve with me – I guess Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe will always have something in common no matter what century we arrived to live in the US. I certainly did not have nearly as many problems trying to establish my life here as the characters in the book did, but as I said it still hit a nerve in many ways.
“I’m building a network, Alter. But it’s… it’s this damn accent.” He shook his head in disgust. “I’ve tried so hard to get rid of it, but whenever I speak English, it comes through. Most don’t know what it is—they don’t acquaint themselves with the people down on Maxwell Street—so I tell them I’m Russian, and they don’t question it. But they still know I’m not one of them. And that means they don’t trust me. More important, they don’t see me as an equal.” I knew that feeling all too well. Even at the office of the Idisher Kuryer, there was a power imbalance, and it wasn’t just between press boys and editors. Most of the high-ranking editors and journalists had come to America many years ago. Some were even born here. I often heard them talk with disdain about the flood of immigrants from the east. They thought we were stuck in the old ways and unwilling to assimilate, when really, it was just a question of how much we were willing to give up to become American, and how fast.”
It’s this damn accent indeed, even if in my case my insecurities about my accent always had been mostly in my head :).
Enough about me. A very wise friend once suggested to me that a review should let the reader know more about the book than about the reviewer and while of course it is inevitable to share part of yourself while talking about the book you read, I think I agree with this.
This book is so very Jewish in the best sense of the word and to me this was a wonderful thing. The author makes Judaism a living breathing part of the settings and I really liked it.
The main character Alder is a Jewish boy, who came to Chicago with his father, who is working very hard in a low paying job trying to gather money to bring his mother and sisters to America. As well, he has to save forty more dollars when the book begins. Alder’s father died on the way and he is completely alone now. Well, he is not actually alone, he does have some friends around him, but Alder does not really know how to ask for help and I think in the course of the book he does realize that he has people who love him here.
Unfortunately somebody is killing Jewish boys around Alder and when one of his roommates dies, Alder gets very much involved in the investigation at great risk to himself and some of his friends.
I guess since the blurb mentions it, it is not a spoiler which is weird to me but I am not the blurb writer. Alder gets possessed by the spirit of his dead friend Yakov and partially for that reason he has to figure out who killed him and likely some other friends/acquaintances of his.
I thought the book was very engaging and suspenseful, I kept turning pages, however this was a very significant issue for me. I felt that the possession story had very significant horror element (opinions may differ on this of course). It is possible that if I knew the details, I would not have started the book as much as I loved the characters.
There is a romantic element which ends very hopefully and I thought they had very sweet chemistry, but the book is NOT a romance.
I am actually going to finish with another quote that very much hit a nerve.
“I couldn’t understand all of what he was saying, but the words I did understand made my blood boil. There was never a way to escape it. If you were a poor Jew, then you were a parasite, living in a hut with a dirt floor or the filth and squalor of a tenement you could hardly afford. If you were a wealthy Jew, you were a vampire, a conniving evil sucking the blood of the common people. The proof was right there—no matter how high we climbed, there would always be someone a step higher, to stomp down on our faces.”