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

 

The Apostle for bored-again Christians

Ancient Corinth
Ancient Corinth

The Apostle is a fictional retelling of the story of Saul of Tarsus, the Jewish Pharisee who became the Christian missionary to the Gentiles.

Sholem Asch goes over the same ground covered in the Book of Acts but adds in all the New Testament epistles, which makes the story much longer and far less interesting.

Asch is out to show how central the Jews are to Christianity and he can’t be bothered with trivia like plot and characterization. Events that might have been interesting if told by a storyteller get short shrift.

In place of dialogue, the characters quote scripture— from the King James version of the Bible, no less. Why would someone writing about the first century from the vantage point of the 1930s have the characters speak in Elizabethan English?

Asch tries to account for some of the New Testament references that perplex today’s readers. He makes Paul an epileptic, blind in one eye, to account for his thorn in the flesh and his visions. Unfortunately, Asch isn’t able to blend his suppositions into anything resembling a human being. Paul is about as credible as a paper doll.

The Apostle is neither a good novel, good theology, or good history.  It’s just a bore.

The Apostle
By Sholem Asch
Trans. Maurice Samuel
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1943
804 pages
1943 bestseller # 7

Photo Credit: Corinth, Greece
by jfonono http://www.sxc.hu/photo/945742

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni