The New York Times Book Review
Red, White and Blueby Susan Isaacs
From Compromising Positions to Lily White, Susan Isaacs has written seven critically acclaimed novels, all unforgettable New York Times bestsellers that have enthralled and touched her numerous fans. Now, she delivers her most powerful story yet, the gripping saga of two ordinary strangers whose hearts and lives will be joined in a most/b>/b>/b>… See more details below
From Compromising Positions to Lily White, Susan Isaacs has written seven critically acclaimed novels, all unforgettable New York Times bestsellers that have enthralled and touched her numerous fans. Now, she delivers her most powerful story yet, the gripping saga of two ordinary strangers whose hearts and lives will be joined in a most extraordinary way. . . .
A straight shooter in every sense, FBI agent Charlie Blair has the numbing job of a bureaucrat and the soul of a cowboy. Dying a slow death from lack of purpose, he jumps at the chance to leave behind Dairy Queen vanilla cones and the History Channel to infiltrate a paramilitary group in Wyoming. Charlie's not the only one hot on the trail, however. Lauren Miller, a bright, ambitious New York journalist, has arrived in Jackson Hole and is bent on finding these extremists for a career-making scoop. On the surface, this whiter than whitebread mountain man and the independent, urbane East-coast writer seem worlds apart. But they share more than they can ever imagineincluding a great-great-grandmother and a mutual desire for justice that will spark not only a powerful passion for the truth . . . but an irresistible passion for each other too.
The New York Times Book Review
Continental Divide Bestselling author Susan Isaacs presents an exhilarating, intensely moving, and quintessentially American tale in her eighth novel, Red, White and Blue. Spanning the 20th century, this multigenerational saga focuses on Lauren Miller and Charlie Blair, distant cousins on opposite sides of the continent, who are drawn together by an appalling hate crime and their mutual passion for justice.
Our heroine, Lauren Miller, is 27 and disappointed with her life's achievements: "By now, a genuine Young American Who Will Make the Future Bright would have been able to make banner headlines by tracing an inadvertent aside after a peers conference all the way up to the White House," Lauren wryly reminds herself. But as a reporter at the tiny, cash-poor, New York-based Jewish News, she has found the story that could launch her into the journalistic big leagues. The growing strength of neo-Nazi groups in Wyoming and Idaho assails her Long Island-temple-weaned sensibilities. A recent bombing of a Jewish-owned video store in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, piques Lauren's interest, and though her assertion that the "attack" is anti-Semitic seems tenuous, she feels it's worth on-site investigation. Unfortunately, her patronizing editor, Eli Bloom, disagrees: "Girlie, who do you think you are? Nellie Bly? Anyhow, what do you know from this kind of stuff?"
After Eli assigns her to cover the opening of "Milk@Honey, a kosher cybercafe in Great Neck," Lauren quits, slamming a convincing yet invalid plane ticket on his desk for effect. Eli, panicked about losing his most overworked employee, lures her back with the promise of a two-week reporting trip to Montana. Lauren agrees, then, working on a hot tip, heads to Wyoming instead. Meanwhile, half a continent away, special agent Charlie Blair of the FBI is heading west to Jackson Hole to infiltrate Wrath, a neo-Nazi organization that may or may not be involved in anti-Semitic subterfuge. His job is to determine the nature of the threat and "get the hell out." As he drives, Charlie's mind wanders to his wife, Stacey, who "has long since moved out of his bed, out of his house, out of his state, over to Colorado Springs so their 12-year-old daughter, Morning, can train with one of the top coaches in American figure skating." Maybe that's why Charlie's practically broke. Nonetheless, he's happy as he focuses on the road ahead of him, because he grew up outside of Jackson, on a ranch that belonged to his family for generations. Charlie knows every inch of the area, and practically everyone knows him -- at least, they did the last time he was there, some 30-odd years ago. Charlie "has been dying of a lack of purpose," but "soon he will become the man he was born to be."
Lauren and Charlie share a secret of which neither is aware: The unlikely pair are distant cousins. Isaacs devotes a third of Red, White and Blue to explaining the complex link. At first, I was worried that the story would be bogged down by historical background, but Isaacs pulls it off with energy and sharp character sketches. Isaacs depicts Lauren and Charlie's ancestors with a surprising sense of pathos, relieved by the often wry humor of their circumstances. Jake Blaustein, a gangster's protégé on New York's Lower East Side in the '20s, splits town when his boss learns that Jake has been skimming profits from his weekly deliveries (he's also courting his boss's girl on the side). Dora Schottland, "a 15-year-old orphan from somewhere east of Budapest," looks out at New York Harbor from the deck of the SS Polonia in the first decade of this century. She's two-and-a-half-months pregnant and is considering throwing herself into the whitecap-specked water. She doesn't want to tell Herschel Blaustein, her fiancé, that the child she's carrying is not his. She marries him, and because he loves her, he believes that the child is premature. But by far the most affecting chronicle is that of Sally Ann Wolf, who meets her future husband, Martin Freund, while serving him "a tuna on rye toast with tomato" at the Lexington Avenue lunch counter where she works. That day he waits outside the shop for her and walks her to the Hunter College library, where she is returning an art history book on Raffaello: "[B]y the time they reached the library...Sally Ann Wolf learned that Marty had taken the afternoon off from Steinberg & Mendelson, counselors-at-law, because once and for all, he had to know...if the beautiful girl with the luminous black eyes behind the counter at the coffee shop...was truly as wonderful as she looked." The description of their marriage is sweetly luminous. I won't reveal what happens -- suffice it to say that Isaacs will draw the lovelorn to lunch counters in flocks. (Susan, please write a book about the Freunds!)
Meanwhile -- speaking of love -- Charlie and Lauren meet in Wyoming. He notices her "heart-shaped face" as she interviews Vernon Ostergard, the leader of Wrath, and she sees Charlie waiting for Vern outside the general store. Using either women's or reporter's intuition, Lauren determines that Charlie doesn't quite fit in at Wrath. She tracks him down at the auto shop where he works and confronts him with her doubts about his affiliation. He's not sure whether to shoot her or kiss her. But ultimately the choice is clear.
This latest departure from Isaacs's standard repertoire will be a refreshing surprise for her fans. The geographical shift from east to west works for her; she's found a fresh tableau in Wyoming, and although the link to New York is a bit of a stretch, it makes sense with the familial texture Isaacs offers. The story is a timeline that has preserved the precious anecdotes that make forgotten great-aunts and uncles come alive again, an exciting read that makes transcontinental falling in love look effortless. Susan Isaacs surely adds another blockbuster to her roster of bestsellers with Red, White and Blue.
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.18(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.18(d)
Read an Excerpt
On a glacial December afternoon in the final year of the last century, a certain Herschel Blaustein, a thirty-six-year-old winemaker from a shtetl not many kilometers out of Cracow, stood on the lurching deck of the SS Polonia and snatched the chapped but finely shaped hand of Dora Schottland, a fifteen-year-old orphan from somewhere east of Budapest. At the very moment the Statue of Liberty came into view, his great, blue-stained fingers closed over her diminutive reddened ones. When at last he found the words (Yiddish words), they came close to being blown back to Europe by the cruel wind. Still, Dora was able to hear them. "Marry me, my little American prune shnecken." He had rehearsed "apple shnecken" the night before, but at the last minute realized that apple was too prosaic a pastry to entice a romantic and sparkly eyed young girl.
Dora was already sick to her stomach--thanks not only to the roiling waters of New York Harbor but also to being two and a half months pregnant, courtesy of one Shmuel Gribetz, a slick piece of work with blue eyes from Belarus, who had passed himself off as an itinerant Torah scribe on his way to Vienna, except--Shmuel had confided to her as the sun set--he was praying that he would not have to enter that thrilling, sinful city without the company of a good Jewish wife. As the moon began to rise, he sighed: I love you, Dora. When it reached its height, he beseeched her: Marry me, Dora, my angel. Without actually taking their vows, they consummated them at midnight.
Now, with "prune shnecken," Dora's nausea became unbearable. She was no dope: To acquiesce to prune shnecken was to concedethe end of dreams. Such turbulence inside her! Her poor head spun like a windmill. What little food she had been able to swallow that morning--burned beans, rank water, stale bread--sloshed violently from gut to throat to gut again, again and again, like the foam-topped swells crashing against the Polonia. She grew so wretched that she began to understand the deathly magic of those nightmare tales they told below on stormy nights: A nice girl was out on deck, minding her own business, when all of a sudden . . . Oy! Overboard!
Oh, overboard! The solace of no more. She could feel the warmth of that icy black water as it claimed her body for its own. Yet even as her vision narrowed so that all she could see were whitecaps rising, branching into thin plumes--pale fingers beckoning, Come here, Dora, come to me, sweet girl--even as she yanked her hand out of Herschel's paw and took one step, then another and another, rushing to get to the rail, to hurl herself over it, her head was lifted by . . . Who knows by what? By God? Or maybe it was simply that her cheek was slapped so hard by the wind she was forced to look westward. In that instant, her black eyes met the unfathomable copper eyes of Liberty, the Mother of Exiles, and in them Dora found the strength to turn back to Herschel and enunciate her first word of English:
So here we are, just about a hundred years later. Are any of Herschel's or Dora's descendants aware of this fleeting vignette in their histories? Do they even know there were two people named Dora Schottland and Herschel Blaustein? Well, Lauren Miller does have a vague image of her progenitors, although she doesn't know their names. What she pictures is two resolute figures, a tad on the swarthy side, standing at the rail of a ship. Look! There is Great-great-grandpa, thin-faced, with a regal beak of a nose: Imagine a five-foot-six-inch Abraham Lincoln with a skullcap. And right beside him is Great-great-grandma, careworn in her shabby dress and black babushka. This great-great-grandma of Lauren's imagination is twenty-five or thirty years old. She's slightly pudgy. Okay, built like a matzoh ball. Seen close up, her face is already scored by a cobweb of fine lines--she has come from a land without moisturizers. In any case, Lauren envisions tears streaming from their noble immigrant eyes. She hears them sobbing, "America! America!"
Despite Lauren's natural assumption that this touching scene is drawn from ancestral memory, the two faces were actually suggested by a few frames near the end of the movie Yentl, which she happened to glimpse one night in May 1997, as she was flicking through the channels on her way from Comedy Central to Conan O'Brien.
There is no such affecting image for Charlie Blair. He has heard vague references to a Jewish great-great-something, but he is more intrigued by reports of an Indian forebear. That's where he gets his black hair from. A Cheyenne or an Arapaho woman. Whatever. No one in the family remembers much about her, except that she was a beauty and a chief's daughter.Fine, you say. Nice, the ancestor stuff. Now can we get back to Lauren and Charlie? Not quite yet. We need to look at Herschel Blaustein and Dora Schottland and their children and their children's children. We need to understand the process by which our two American heroes became Americans--and whether that great journey from there to here had any meaning.Last, but definitely not least, as we leave this century, isn't it time to inquire: What is an American anyway? It's a critical question to think about now, what with all the virulently anti-government rhetoric abroad in the land. We ought to ask: Now that we've gotten here, what holds us together? What do all of us, with our different American experiences, have in common? Is there an American character? Are Americans somehow different from Europeans and Africans and Asians? What, besides a couple of random genes, do this western mountain man and this eastern suburban woman share?
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