Acclaimed author Mary Morris returns to her Chicago roots in this sweeping novel that brilliantly captures the dynamic atmosphere and the dazzling music of the Jazz Age.
In the midst of boomtown Chicago, two Jewish families have suffered terrible blows. The Lehrmans, who run a small hat factory, lost their beloved son, Harold, in a blizzard. The Chimbrovas, who run a saloon, lost three of their boys on the SS Eastland when it sank in 1915. Each family holds out hope that one of their remaining children will rise to carry on the family business. But Benny Lehrman has no interest in making hats. His true passion is piano - especially jazz. At night he sneaks down to the South Side, slipping into predominantly black clubs to hear jazz groups play.
One night he is called out and asked to sit in on a group. His playing is first rate, and the other musicians are impressed. One of them, the trumpeter, a black man named Napoleon, becomes Benny's close friend and musical collaborator, and their adventures together take Benny far from the life he knew as a delivery boy. Pearl Chimbrova recognizes their talent and invites them to start playing at her family's saloon, which Napoleon dubs The Jazz Palace. But Napoleon's main gig is at a mob establishment, which doesn't take too kindly to freelancing. And as the '20s come to a close and the bubble of prosperity collapses, Benny, Napoleon, and Pearl must all make hard choices between financial survival and the music they love.
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Growing up with a jazz soul as a Jewish boy in Chicago
Yes. It's heart-ful (but NOT sappy) and complete
Wow! I hadn't really expected to like this book too much; it's a book club book, and I hadn't particularly cared for the last three; I don't much care for jazz; I've gotten tired of history for my pleasure reading; it just wasn't my usual style. This book was so touching and complete. It ran pretty much the entire range of emotions, but it finally ended appropriately! And despite the fact that it wasn't a suspense or a mystery (:-)), there were gangsters and racism treated extremely correctly for the historical time! And in terms of it being "a book club book", it was totally appropriate: it introduced me to different styles of books that I may not by my own choice, and it definitely had the right heart and feel!
- Marsha L. Woerner