Book Review: Strivers Row by Kevin Baker

AuthorKevin Baker
Title: Strivers Row
Narrator: Thomas Anthony Penny
Publication Info: HarperAudio, 2006
ISBN: 9780060195830
Other books read by same author: Paradise Alley and Dreamland

This is third in a series of books known as the City of Fire, where Kevin Baker delves into the drama of everyday lives among the ordinary, working class communities of historical New York.  The books are always richly detailed and well-told.  This time the story is set in Harlem in 1943 against the backdrop of World War II and racial tensions ratcheting up.  This story is framed around two main characters: the Reverend Jonah Dove who feels unworthy of his leadership role compared with his legendary father and is sometimes able to pass as white, and a fictional version of Malcolm Little who would become Malcolm X.  Choosing Malcolm X for a character in a novel is a daring move, especially since Baker takes liberties with the timeline of his discovery of the Nation of Islam.  But overall both his characters are rich, flawed, fully-human, and have a feeling of authenticity.  The novel is peppered with historical events and the characters reactions to them.  Like the previous two novels – Paradise Alley which ended with the Draft Riots and Dreamland which ended with the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire – Strivers Row culminates in a major event in New York City, this time the Harlem Race Riots of 1943.  I think Baker did a better job overall with the previous two books, but this is an entertaining and though-provoking novel

Recommended booksThe Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley
Rating: ***

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