New York: The Novel

Written by Edward Rutherfurd
Review by Jane Kessler

Edward Rutherfurd says that “New York’s magnificent gift to the storyteller is a four-century history as exciting as that of any place on earth.” Well, New York: The Novel is Edward Rutherfurd’s gift to historical fiction readers. He is at the top of his game with this book, which tells the story of New York from 1664, when it was New Amsterdam and a Dutch settlement, to the terrible events of September 11.

As in all his books, the story follows the lives of a few fictional families through time, with historical events interwoven, including the rise of New York as the financial capital of the U.S., the construction of major city landmarks, Tammany Hall politics, and the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. The families represent a cross-section of New York. The Dutch and English settlers are represented by the Van Dycks and Masters, united through marriage, who become wealthy early on and are part of the group of New Yorkers with “old money.” Their story is contrasted with that of a black slave, Quash, and his descendants. Then there are the O’Donnells and the Carusos, Irish and Italian working class families pursuing the American dream in their own way.

While it’s clear that Rutherfurd has done a prodigious amount of research, he never gets boring or pedantic. He obviously knows the city well and has great affection for it. Don’t be put off by the book’s length – it is a quick read despite its 800+ pages. When I finished, I thought about how wonderful it is that there are writers like Edward Rutherfurd who make vast amounts of history so incredibly entertaining. Highly recommended.