I love fiction where I learn something new. Birdsong was one such, where I learned about miners being used to create tunnels for the troops in occupied France. Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan is another.
Anna adores her father Eddie and accompanies him when he goes to visit various people ‘for the union,’ his job. Times are tough in depression era New York. Many people have lost their jobs. Eddie has Anna, an extremely disabled younger daughter, and an ex-showgirl wife to support and does whatever he can to make sure there is food on the table.
Years later America has joined the second world war and Anna works in a munitions factory at the docs, earning some money to support her mother and sister. She harbours a desire to be a diver, to go down into the dark, greasy waters around the navy piers and help to repair the ships that have returned there between sorties. She believes her father, who disappeared years earlier, will one day return, but when she has an ill-judged affair with an older gangster cum club owner, she discovers that her father may be closer than she knows.
I loved this book. I had no idea that New York was so nervous of being hit by the Germans, always believing that they thought the war was something that happened ‘over there.’ I loved the attention to detail Egan provides. Her research was obviously extensive, but she doesn’t ram stuff into the story to show you she knows it. Instead, each detail enriches the sense of time and place in which the story takes place. There are some authors I know who would do well to take a leaf out of Ms Egan’s book.
The characters flew off the page, so perfectly were they described. I adored Anna, a true feminist who wouldn’t recognise that word. She did whatever it took to survive and thrive during these difficult times. I felt great empathy with her, and with her father.
Dexter Styles, the gangster, was brilliantly drawn. I’d quite like him to have a book of his own as there was such complexity in his character and story.
There is so much more I’d like to say, but I don’t want to give away any of the plot. This is a truly remarkable book and I am grateful to the publisher who gave me a copy of the book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.