The Lightning Keeper (P.S. Series)
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The Lightning Keeper (P.S. Series)

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by Starling Lawrence

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This is the story of an unlikely love at the dawn of the electric age in America. In 1914, Toma Pekocevic is a penniless immigrant in New York recently escaped from the bloody politics of the Balkans that has claimed most of his family. He is also a gifted inventor who designs a revolutionary water turbine while working with Harriet Bigelow, scion of a proud

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This is the story of an unlikely love at the dawn of the electric age in America. In 1914, Toma Pekocevic is a penniless immigrant in New York recently escaped from the bloody politics of the Balkans that has claimed most of his family. He is also a gifted inventor who designs a revolutionary water turbine while working with Harriet Bigelow, scion of a proud Connecticut iron-making dynasty now fallen on hard times. Their attraction is immediate and overwhelming, but every circumstance is against them. Toma's invention is all he has after losing Harriet to a wealthy politician, but he is determined to win her back, setting the stage for a confrontation that could change not only his life but the course of scientific progress.

Editorial Reviews

Harper Lee
“The Lightning Keeper is a great novel, a transcendent and enduring American novel. I loved it.”
“Lawrence has created a very American saga.”
Bruce Murkoff
Lawrence's descriptive gifts are such that the history and science of electrical energy and turn-of-the-century manufacturing are given the power and fascination they must have held for people of that time. His writing is always crisp, often beautiful: "The incandescent cable burst through its vaporized sheathing, the arresters showering sparks, the air around them glowing like the halo of a saint." Clearly, Lawrence has a love of his subject, and readers might very well come away feeling as much fondness for a turbine engine as for the romantic vision of an America once lit by lamplight. This many-layered story pulsates with the power of two hearts beating in the darkness, waiting for that flicker of electricity that will light not only their way, but the way of a nation.
— The Washington POst
Publishers Weekly
Sparks fly in Lawrence's blend of romance and historical fiction, set against the struggle to harness electricity in the early 20th century. The editor-in-chief of W.W. Norton picks up where his earlier novel, Montenegro, left off: Toma Pekocevic lands in Naples, on his way from the political strife in the Balkans to America. In Italy, Toma meets Harriet Bigelow, the young heiress to a once prominent iron-making dynasty. A brief magnetic encounter leaves both adolescents changed-and charged-forever. Six years later, in 1914, the pair meet again by chance in New York. Determined to help Harriet save the Bigelow Iron Company from financial ruin, Toma invents a machine capable of revolutionizing electricity. But an accident forces Toma to choose between his passion for Harriet and his love for his war-torn homeland, now at the epicenter of WWI. Harriet too must choose between her love for the lonely immigrant and a wealthy suitor who could aid her family but whose affection leaves her cold. Meanwhile, General Electric has expressed interest in Toma's idea-and will stop at nothing to control the possibilities of power. Skillfully intertwining fact and fiction, Lawrence generates an electric history of ideas, kindled by the flames of capital and passion. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In a small Connecticut town in early 20th-century America, at a time when electricity is still a newfangled invention, Harriet Bigelow struggles with the decline of both her father's mental health and the family ironworks business, for which she has an aptitude. Then Balkan immigrant Toma Pekocevic (seen in Norton editor in chief Lawrence's previous novel, Montenegro) gets involved in the business, and his genius for invention and passion for Harriet combine to create a tension and suspense that carry the reader to the novel's end. Adding to the tension is wealthy Senator Truscott, whose own interest in Harriet and the Bigelow Iron Company forces Harriet to make some difficult decisions. Lawrence blends science and romance into an immensely readable story; his descriptions of the ironworks, Toma's water turbine, and the experiments for capturing lightning are as exciting as they are beautiful (in fact, this "technical" aspect is more about passion and the palpable connection between Harriet and Toma). Including historical photographs and appearances by real-life inventors, Lawrence's latest is recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/05.]-Joy Humphrey, Pepperdine Univ. Law Lib., Malibu, CA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Ponderous second novel by veteran publishing exec Lawrence juxtaposes the fitful advance of early-20th-century American technology with the characters' stalled romantic aspirations. It's love at first sight for Harriet and Toma when they meet briefly in Naples in 1908. She's a 14-year-old upper-crust Yankee on vacation; he's a 16-year-old Serb whose full backstory can be found in Montenegro (1997). Six years later, Harriet keeps the books at her family's ironworks in Connecticut. Visiting New York with her deaf father to secure a contract to make wheels for subway cars, she discovers Toma serving as top assistant to the cars' manufacturer. Sent by his boss to stay at the ironworks while they "smooth out" the production process, Toma meets Horatio, a canny black man who operates the giant water wheel, and Olivia, Horatio's "wife" since she turned 12. A horrifying accident kills Horatio, cripples the wheel and dooms both contract and ironworks; on the plus side, it inspires Toma to invent a metal wheel, a big leap forward. He winds up in bed with Olivia, who falls in love with him. Toma still pines for Harriet, but accepts fatalistically her marriage to local banker and U.S. Senator Fowler Truscott. Why would a 53-year-old bachelor enter a marriage he does not consummate? Why is it so hard for the spirited Harriet to "balance the claims" of her two suitors? And why doesn't Toma fight for his dream woman? There are serious fault lines here. The author is on more solid ground with Toma's invention of a turbine and the entrance of two historical figures: Coffin, chairman of General Electric, and Steinmetz, the electrical engineering genius who foresees a national grid protected bylightning-arrestors. Toma, by now on GE's payroll, becomes the great man's "lightning keeper." This at least is a coherent storyline, unlike the endless yearnings of Harriet and Toma, who worships the Senator's wife unavailingly and abandons poor Olivia like roadkill. Machines supply the light here; the people are dim indeed.

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
P.S. Series
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Product dimensions:
5.36(w) x 8.02(h) x 1.04(d)

What People are saying about this

Harper Lee
“The Lightning Keeper is a great novel, a transcendent and enduring American novel. I loved it.”

Meet the Author

Starling Lawrence is the editor in chief and vice chairman of W.W. Norton & Company. He is the author of the novel Montenegro and the story collection Legacies. He lives in New York City and northwestern Connecticut.

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Lightning Keeper 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Set against the backdrop of the First World War, this is a wonderful story about the struggle for technological progress and of ill-fated love. Our lovers are frustrated by their perceptions of their roles in society, and struggle to resolve their feelings for each other without betraying their responsibilities. Alongside this bittersweet story, we are also treated to the struggle to create the modern electric power grid. The technical details are clearly described, and the author does a good job of describing the obstacles and the visions of the engineers that brought electricity to America. He also does a good job in showing the role of patents in this process. This is a wonderful book that paints a vivid portrait of the early part of the previous century and the people who lived then. There was one error in the details of this book that caught my attention, though. Beginning on page 208, the author describes Toma's visit the the U.S. Patent Office, describing its location as being at the Commerce Department Building (page 209). Unfortunately, the Patent Office did not move to the Commerce Department Building until 1932. From 1840-1932, the Patent Office was located in its own building, located in the block bounded by F, G, 7th and 9th Streets NW (now home to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American Art and National Portrait Gallery). Other than that detail, I found the description of Toma's visit to the Patent Office fascinating and true to life. (This review is based on a pre-publication Advanced Reader's Edition)