The story of a Jewish mobster and the rippling effects on his family is at the heart of this compelling novel set in Brooklyn in the early 1900s. The inspiration for the story came from the author’s own family, as Abie “Little Yiddle” Lorber was the author’s great-uncle.
The majority is told from the perspective of Abie’s younger sister, Thelma, who is based on the author’s grandmother. Soon after Thelma is born, her father dies, leaving her immigrant mother practically incapacitated and poverty-stricken. Thelma’s older sister Annie takes over raising all the children, but she and the mother form an alliance against Thelma and her two older brothers. In fact, Abie and his brother Louis are sent to an orphanage for two years, while the women struggle to stay afloat financially.
Growing up without love takes its toll on Thelma, who, while close with her brothers, can never please her mother and her sister. In fact, they are downright cruel to her, which affects her whole life. She tries desperately to find love elsewhere, be it through her Italian friend’s large family or through marrying a mentally ill man.
The novel is an atmospheric one, as it conjures up realistic imagery of the underbelly of the Brooklyn mob as well as the poverty and desperation of many people in the pre- and post-World War I era. It is less about the mob and more about a family affected. The themes of family loyalty and the lasting impact of childhood neglect are told with compassion and authenticity. I was a bit disappointed in the ending, as it is far from uplifting; nor does it have the resolution that I was hoping for, but ultimately the book is well-executed.