Come With Me to Babylon
This is not a typical, endearing Jewish immigrant story. In 1908 it was Esther’s Cohen’s dream to leave Russia and go to America. She is certain that it is the best opportunity for her family. Her husband, Meyer, who is something of an armchair Socialist, dreaming of his family’s property that had been confiscated by the Tsar, reluctantly complies, although his heart is with their older, estranged, revolutionary son, Jacob. The Cohens are headed for Vineland, New Jersey, to become farmers. While they await the construction of their farmhouse, they stay in New York City. Fanny, the daughter, gets a job as a seamstress with the Triangle Shirtwaist Company and, although injured, survives the infamous fire. Ben, the younger son, meets, befriends, and becomes a minor associate of Arnold Rothstein. While this friendship often provides Ben with the wherewithal to come to the financial rescue of his family, it also causes him to resort to a marriage of convenience and forsake his dream of being a miniaturist.
Mr. Levitt has written a poignant tale, possibly a more realistic account of the immigrant experience than is often seen. Although the story unfolds in the first person from the points of view of the different characters, it is not in the least distracting; in fact, it keeps the reader always in the picture. Come with Me to Babylon is rich, earthy, and entertaining.