It's 1938 in Baltimore, Maryland and a lot of people around town thought things were pretty good that year. The worst of the Depression was over and a troubled Europe was an ocean away. Pesky labour unions seemed satisfied, Jews kept to themselves, and blacks knew their place. For everyone else the city's odd blend of Southern attitude and Yankee hustle offered a comfortable, complacent stability with the promise of even better times to come. But on Thanksgiving Day that year a violent assault brings two very different people together and changes their lives forever.
Juliana Corbeau is near perfect example of blue-blood upbringing. She lives in the city's most prestigious neighbourhood and attends private school. Will Stahl is an immigrant's son. He lives in a rowhouse. Yet he too is a near perfect example; that of a first generation American. He's a scholarship law student who's both idealistic and ambitious.
Their unlikely love story begins when Juliana is taking a walk through exclusive, whites-only Wyman Park and is attacked, or so it seems, by a colored man. It's Will who comes to her rescue, and that chance encounter sets them on a path where they must confront not only the class distinctions, prejudices, and racism of the times, but a tragic miscarriage of justice, a fateful Supreme Court decision, and danger for family trapped in Nazi Germany When the war eventually reaches America at Pearl Harbor everything changes again, forcing them to make impossible choices about love, justice, family- and ultimately their very lives.
A week ago I was asked to review this book by the author himself. As a big lover of historical novels I was very much getting stuck into this as soon as it loaded onto my kindle!
The story deals with very prominent issues in society- democracy and equality. Set in Baltimore during a distinctive period of American and World history of the late nineteen thirties to the early forties, it gave me a different perspective on a period of history I enjoy learning about. Being someone born and bred in England, my knowledge of World War II I guess is pretty much surrounding England and Germany and not so much of their allies. So for me this book was not only a bundle of knowledge I was more than welcome to take in but also it delivered a rather beautiful love story of Will and Juliana.
Will son of German immigrant parents saves Juliana a high society girl, from what appears to be an attack by a black man in a secluded park in the city, and as expected he is arrested and tried without any representation on his side- something Will, being a lawyer felt was unjust.
With Will's involvement in the trial of Juliana's attacker, he soon realises that the legal system in place goes against defendants who simply can't afford attorneys and therefore goes into studying law in hope to contribute to put this matter right.
Despite their differences in social class, something at the time was still to be seen as an important factor in choosing a marriage suitor. Will and Juliana form a bond with much to the dislike of both their parents, but like any two people in love none of this stands in their way of being together.
What I enjoyed most about this book was the social issues that were raised. Racism is still very much the norm and social class is still a high priority. This novel brought to light, Germans living in the US during the war lost business because they were discriminated against and accused of being Nazi's- as if all Germans were automatically under Hitler's influence. I think sometimes we're very keen to paint everyone with the same brush so to speak, we don't take note that some people aren't like everyone else- they're different through choice.
Again antisemitism is brought up amongst these social issues, of not being welcome in public places and having to have separate social clubs and I guess areas for their own to stay in just like blacks were segregated from whites too.
Juliana and Will are both the heroine and the hero in this novel and they come a long way and showed much character development that I loved. Juliana in particular goes against her Father's expectations of a perfect suitor for her, Will being of a lower class than her. She wishes to pursue someone she loves not to attach herself to riches and a higher social class, she thinks for herself and I admired her bravery of not settling for second best.
Furthermore, the historical context for me was fascinating and intriguing to know that certain events on similar dates were fairly accurate to real events and people. It gave the book more meaning once I had read the additional notes at the end of the book, it felt like it honoured those who fought and fell during the war.
I can't really point out anything I didn't like about this book, other than it took a little while to get going and hold my interest but once I got to that point I was pretty much hooked. I felt the end may have been a little abrupt but perhaps that may have been me not wanting the story to end so quickly!
A very well told, what I feel was a young adult novel with a vast amount of knowledge and social issues that you can get your teeth stuck into!
Thank you Jeff for asking me to read your novel and I'll be sure to spread the word around for others to enjoy this novel like I did :-)