Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What We're Reading Now: New York: The Novel

I’ve always loved studying history, but I often find myself wanting to know more about the day-to-day lives of ordinary individuals who didn’t make headlines. In addition to visiting historic sites across the country, and reading first-person accounts of various time periods, I’ve learned a lot from reading historical fiction.

In honor of the Fourth of July, our summer staff book club pick is New York: A Novel by Edward Rutherfurd, which has been named one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post who calls it “a riotous, multilayered portrait of a whole metropolis.” It may weigh in at more than 800 pages and a couple of pounds, but it is a thrilling account of the history of our city told through the eyes of several generations and a handful of families whose fates and lives are intertwined.

The novel starts in the 1664 when the city was called New Amsterdam and home to the Dutch, English, Native Americans, and even a handful of Jews who came by way of Brazil. More than a history lesson, its characters, both real and imagined virtually jump off the page. Whether he is bringing life to a cross dressing governor or shedding light on slavery in New York, Rutherfurd’s attention to detail is staggering.

At this point, I am up to the Revolutionary War, which is fascinating to read, as many of the main characters live right around Bowling Green, New York’s oldest park, which is just a stone’s throw from the Museum of Jewish Heritage. As I got off the subway this morning, I pictured the statue of King George III being taken down and made into bullets for the Patriots.

I really look forward to continuing to delve into other chapters of the city’s history and hope you will read along.

Image: Bowling Green, complete with its original fence from 1771.

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