Hey all! Got a book recommendation today. If you are like me and love: New York, New York fiction, historical fiction, big-ass books, then this one is for you: New York by Edward Rutherfurd. This is the third book I’ve read by this author: the previous ones I’ve read are the ones he wrote about Paris (here) and London (here). With this book, the trifecta of the world’s greatest cities is complete!
In case you’ve never heard of these books or the author, here’s the unusual structure of the novels: a place is chosen (in this case, New York City), and the history of this place is told through the points of view of several families spanning generations. In this novel, the history of New York is told through: the Master family, a wealthy family of Dutch and English origins who were living in New York when it was founded; the O’Donnell family, an Irish immigrant family who moved from the slums of Five Points into Gramercy Park; the Caruso family, Italian immigrants living in the Bowery; and a host of others reflecting the incredibly diverse population of New York spanning centuries, and which continues to thrive today.
So, I grew up twenty minutes from the heart of Manhattan. I work there, I play there, I will probably live there someday (maybe in an outer borough!) and so for any non-native author to write about this city so intimately made me skeptical. New Yorkers are nothing if not exclusive and precious about their city. And even though this book doesn’t always capture every little bit of what being in New York is really like, it absolutely does capture its essence, which is obvious from passages like these:
“You can do what you like, sir, but I’ll tell you this. New York is the true capital of America. Every New Yorker knows it, and by God, we always shall.”
“What he needed Gorham to understand—what his son was heir to—
the thing that really mattered—was the New Yorkers indomitable spirit.”
“And suddenly it came to him. That Strawberry Fields garden he’d come from, and the Freedom Tower he’d been thinking of: taken together, didn’t they contain the two words that said it all about this city, the two words that really mattered? It seemed to him that they did. Two words: the one an invitation, the other an ideal, an adventure, a necessity. “Imagine” said the garden. “Freedom” said the tower. Imagine freedom. That was the spirit, the message of this city he loved. You really didn’t need anything more. Dream it and do it. But first you must dream it.”
Um, hell yes! One thing I actually have to point out about this novel that satisfied me was its handling of 9/11. I remember that day even though I was young, and I’ve never read a fictional account of it that didn’t treat it poorly, like a spectacle and not the massive tragedy it was. This book wasn’t entirely perfect, but it’s the best fictional account I’ve come across. It didn’t treat the event like a plot point. It gave it due respect. And it actually made me cry.