No Time for Tears, only for business

No Time for Tears is Cynthia Freeman’s aptly named novel about a Jewish woman too busy keeping her family together to regret what she does to accomplish it.

Spine of No Time for Tears
No dust jacket on this library copy of No Time for Tears

Chavala Rabinsky becomes head of her family at 16 when her mother dies in childbirth. She promptly proposes to Dovid Landau, whom her parents have treated like family.

She knows Dovid will be the father to her five siblings that Avrum Rabinsky is too grief-stricken to be.

Chavala is surprised to find she loves him.

Realizing the Russian pograms are going to get worse, Chavala convinces Dovid the family must emigrate.

She wants to go to America, but the men are set on Palestine.

Chavala’s financial acumen gets them there.

Eretz Yisroel isn’t the promised land they expected.

After World War I, Chavala and Dovid separate.

Dovid remains to build the Jewish homeland.

Chavala goes to New York with two brothers and one sister for whom she makes a home. She builds a multimillion-dollar business to support them and the son conceived in Israel.

Freeman’s builds her story entirely of character sketches, sabotages what personalities survive by an unbelievable plot, and produces an entirely forgettable novel.

No Time for Tears by Cynthia Freeman
Arbor House. ©1981. 411 p.
1981 bestseller #10. My grade: C

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

 

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The Covenant: a novel about South Africa

A cave painting of a rhinoceros is on the cover of James A. Michener's novel The Covenant.
Rhino is from an ancient African cave painting.

In The Covenant, James A. Michener focuses as he has done in so many other best sellers* on one specific place and the character of the peoples who made that place their home over millennia.

As usual, Michener invents a cast of characters who occasionally rub elbows with actual historical figures, beginning with the brown and black populations in South Africa some 15,000 years ago.

Whites come to South Africa occasionally, but don’t stay until the mid 17th century when the Dutch establish a trading post on the Cape of Good Hope.

The first European settlers are Dutch farmers, Boers, who expand eastward toward land controlled by black tribes even as the Dutch cede their African colony to the English in 1795.

From 1800 onward, South Africa is in conflict. Whites against black, black against black, whites against colored, but increasingly Dutch against English.

The English military win the Boer War of 1899-1902, but the Boers triumph politically. They become Afrikaners.

Fiercely independent, rich and powerful, by 1979 Afrikaners dominate blacks, Coloureds, and Asians through the apartheid system.

Events since 1980 have changed the face of Africa, leaving contemporary readers with less connection to events in The Covenant than the novel would have had then, but they can’t obliterate Michener’s masterful storytelling.

The Covenant by James A. Michener
Random House. ©1980. 877 p.
1980 bestseller #1. My grade: A

*Hawaii, Centennial, and Chesapeake are three of Michener’s pre-1980 place-focused bestsellers.

 ©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Last Enchantment

Merlin's harp is focus of front cover of the Mary Stewart novel The Last Enchantment.
Merlin plays his swan song on this harp.

The Last Enchantment is the final book in Mary Stewart’s trilogy about how Arthur became England’s king, subdued the Saxons, and ruled from Camelot.

As in The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills, Stewart tells the story from the vantage point of Merlin, the prophet/wizard who is cousin to Arthur and his mentor.

Merlin has lost his youthful stamina and he’s losing his ability to foresee the future.

Having lived either alone or among men all his life, without his prophetic gift Merlin is at the mercy of women.

Arthur has just won the crown. He must fight to keep it and to beget a son to carry on his line.

Arthur also has to worry about his half-sisters, who have dynastic ambitions of their own, and about his bastard son by one of those half-sisters.

For the first 400 pages of the novel, Stewart spins a fascinating yarn.

She seems then to realize she has too much history still to cover, so she sidelines Merlin while she advances the story.

Then brings him back, gives him a “while you were out” message, wraps up the story, and closes the covers.

The result is 80 percent enchantment and 20 percent disappointment.

The Last Enchantment by Mary Stewart
Morrow, 1979. 538 p.
1979 bestseller #07 My grade: B

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Memories of Another Day

Close-up photo of blue eyes is at center of front cover of Memories of Another Day.
The cover art has nothing to do with the novel’s story.

Memories of Another Day is less awful than many of Harold Robbins’s bestsellers.

The story is told in sections alternating between “now” and “memories of another day.”

The memories are better than now.

The story is about Daniel Boone Huggins, a West Virginia hill country kid growing up dirt-poor in the early 1900s.

His father isn’t savvy enough to sell his moonshine for what it’s worth. The family needs cash.

Dan is sent off to find work. He ends up in a coal mine.

Dan’s sister, who had married a union organizer, is killed along with him.

Dan leaves West Virginia a confirmed union man.

Dan is a typical Robbins hero. Smart and incorruptible, he’s a hard-drinking stud, pursued by every woman who sees him.

He has a son, Daniel Jr., by one wife, and another, Jonathan, by a second wife who is younger than Dan Jr.

After Dan Sr. dies, Jonathan, 17, full of adolescent rebellion against his father, inexplicably goes off to find his father’s roots.

The memories of Big Dan’s labor union organizing experiences are riveting.

The tale of Jonathan’s getting in touch with his father’s legacy is absurd.

Memories of Another Day by Harold ROBBINS
Simon and Schuster, ©1979. 491 p.
1979 bestseller #04 My grade: B

 

Second Generation: A Fast read

Second Generation is the second volume of Howard Fast’s trilogy about an Italian immigrant, Dan Lavette.

Cover of Second Generation is collage of drawings of scenes of the novel
Cover collage echoes shifting focus of Fast’s novel “Second Generation.”

As the title suggests, Dan’s children are the focus of this novel, which opens in California during the Depression and ends after World War II.

Dan has two children, Barbara and Tom, by his first wife, Jean, from whom he is divorced; and Joseph, by his second wife, May Ling.

Barbara and Tom have enjoyed all the benefits of Jean’s wealth and social status. Barbara remains emotionally close to her father and to his second family; she’s antagonistic toward her stepfather and ambivalent toward her mother.

Tom is emotionally cold to both his parents. He values his stepfather’s money and connections.

Joseph has coped well with Dan’s Depression-triggered decent from wealthy entrepreneur to mackerel fisherman. Joseph is on course to become a doctor.

Fast provides a fast-reading story, constantly shifting from one character to another, as their divergent interests take them to cinematic situations: a labor strike, Berlin under the Nazis, Hawaii under Japanese attack, India during WWII rationing,

Fast doesn’t show his characters grow; he just shows them changed. History, too, is reduced to scenes; there’s no continuity.

Second Generation provides good entertainment.

If you want something more substantial, you need to go elsewhere.

Second Generation by Howard Fast
Houghton Mifflin, 1978. 441 p.
1978 bestseller #9. My grade: B

Second Generation is the second volume of a trilogy. The first novel of the set, The Immigrants, published a year earlier, didn’t make the bestseller list, but the third volume, The Establishment, published in 1979 did.

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Evergreen but forgetable

Evergreen follows Anna Friedman, a beautiful, red-headed Polish Jew, who comes to America alone as a teenager in the early 1900s.

Cover illustration for Evergreen shows Anna and a mansion in the center and two men on other side of them.
Symbolically, elements on Evergreen‘s cover don’t touch.

Anna works in a factory, learns English, reads and studies until she’s able to get work as a maid in a home of an upper crust banking family. There she falls for the son, Paul Werner.

Anna marries another poor immigrant, Joseph Friedman, who has little use for formal education but a great capacity for learning. He sees a fortune to be made in building.

When times get rough, Joseph sends Anna to appeal to the Werners for a loan. Anna gets the loan and a child by Paul.

The rest of the novel follows Anna and the next three generations of her family up to the 1970s.

Evergreen feels more like linked short stories than a novel. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising. Bella Plain was a popular short story writer before Evergreen, her first novel.

Plain’s characters are complex enough for a short story, but not for a novel. She doesn’t show characters growing; she only shows they have changed.

History, too, is relegated to scene changes. Even the holocaust in Evergreen appears antiseptic.

Evergreen is decent entertainment, free of lurid detail, but totally forgettable.

Evergreen by Bella Plain
Delacorte Press, c1978. 593 p.
1978 bestseller #6. My grade: B-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

War and Remembrance

Night bombing is symbolic dust jacket cover for  Herman Wouk's"War and Remembrance."
Night time bombings are memorable part of WWII.

Herman Wouk called War and Remembrance a historical romance, a description that barely touches what’s packed into its 3.5 pounds and 1,039 pages.

Wouk picks up the story of an American naval family—Commander Victor “Pug” Henry, his wife, and their three adult children—whom he introduced seven years earlier in The Winds of War.

This novel follows them from the attack on Pearl Harbor through the end of World War II. Wouk uses their stories to transport readers into the wake of war around the globe.

Pug wins promotions, but spends most of his time trying to unsnarl problems abroad at the behest of Roosevelt.

Pug and Rhoda’s eldest son is killed in action, leaving behind a wife and son.

While son Byron serves on submarines in the Pacific, his Jewish wife and their infant son become trapped in Poland.

Rhoda takes a lover, considers divorce.

Pug falls in love; the war continually pulls Pug and Pamela in different directions.

Wouk says frankly his purpose is to show that war must end. He’s too talented a writer to need to preach: His stories preach for him.

To understand War and Remembrance you need not have read Winds but you’ll appreciate both more if you read them as a set.

War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk
Little, Brown, ©1978. 1042 p.
1978 bestseller #2. My grade: A+

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni