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by Troy Soos
ZebraBooks, September 2002
365 pages
ISBN: 1575667681

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I'm a sucker for books about turn-of-the-century New York. My great-grandparents and grandparents immigrated to this country from Central Europe from about 1896-1904 and I waited too long to ask them questions about their life here in those days, but I find most tales set during those early years of the great buildings on Ellis Island very disappointing,.. This one was no different.

Marshall Webb, a journalist and novelist, is waiting for the first boatload of immigrants to arrive at the newly opened great hall. He plans to choose one of them and follow her introduction to the New World. Among the very first immigrants to set foot on the island is a lovely young Dutch girl, who has come to join her cousin, who she thinks is an opera singer, but is in reality, an exotic dancer and prostitute. At the same time, a man with a movie camera is filming the boats and the faces of the newly arrived.

Webb has the girl's name, but she disappears. . Her cousin never even knew that she was coming to the US. Webb finds the photographer and convinces him to print a frame showing the face of the girl, which he then shows around, trying to find Christina. A few weeks later, Marshall receives a telephone call to go to a certain apartment. The girl would be waiting for him. When he arrives, he finds her lying on a bed, freshly murdered, in a filthy apartment.

Soos' descriptions of 1890s New York appear as a series of still photographs rather than a panorama. The opening of Ellis Island to the first immigrants on New Year's Day in 1892 is wonderfully imagined, but the characters are not fully rounded and the story of immigrant girls arriving in the US alone is rather one-sided. If you visit Ellis Island, you can feel the hope and despair lingering in the Great Hall. All one gets in this book is the venality and corruption of the officials working there. There are better books about late 19th century New York, Jack Finney's TIME AND AGAIN, set in the 1880s and Maan Meyers' HOUSE ON MULBERRY STREET set in 1995 are among the best.

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, December 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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