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Thursday, 4 July 2013

Daisy Waugh - Melting the Snow on Hester Street

book reviewed live on bookshow by Babs Simpson 4th July 2013
Matz and Eleanor are Jewish immigrants who come to New York in the 1900's from Europe in search of a better life.  But the conditions they find are appalling - large families living in one squalid room, horrific working conditions in factories whose owners exploit the desperation of the immigrants.  Matz becomes involved with the union movement set up to try and get better conditions and eventually is wanted by the police.
A terrible fire in a garment factory on Hester Street which kills 146 workers, gives matz & Eleanor the chance to escape and they travel across America to Los Angeles where they find fame and fortune in the early days of the film industry.
When the book opens they are living in a mansion - Matt (as he has now become) is a film director and Eleanor an acclaimed actress, although just past her prime.  They have a gilded life but there is one great, unspoken sadness for them both.  They left a child behind in New York with Eleanors mother, only for a few weeks until they found work out West but when they were able to return the building they'd left had been condemned - an outbreak of TB had killed many residents - and they never found their beloved daughter.
This is well worth reading on many levels - a good story with interesting characters as  well as a terrific insight into the squalor and misery of immigrant life in New York at the start of the 20th century - the stench, unimaginable poverty and starvation, all contrast with the golden age of Hollywood - huge mansions, glittering clothes and jewels, unlimited food and drink - even under Prohibition.  and the viciousness of the factory-owning, anti-union elite who escape the terrible fire that claims the lives of so many of their exploited and starving workers.
Daisy Waugh writes vividly, sympathetic to all her characters, bringing that period of history to believable colourful life.  Very satisfying.

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