Most New Yorkers above a certain age who lived in the city in the early 1990’s remember the Crown Height riots. Between August 19th and 21, 1991, the rising tension between the African-American and Hasidic Jewish communities exploded into violence and destruction.
Joshua: A Brooklyn Tale, by Andrew Kane uses the Crown Heights riots as the third act of his novel. Instead of using generalizations about both communities, Mr. Kane focuses on three different characters and how the long simmering tensions affect them.
Paul Sims is the only child and son of an assimilated Jewish family living on Long Island. While Paul has all of the material comforts that any child would ever want, neither of his parents are able to provide the parental warmth and support that he needs. He finds the support and encouragement in Rabbi Weissman, his bar mitzvah tutor. Paul also falls for the Rabbi’s daughter and only child, Rachel. Drawn to the Hasidim, Paul abandons the secular life he was raised in and goes back to the life of his ancestors.
Rachel Weissman has only known the life of a dutiful daughter of the Hasidim. She knows that her life is already planned out of her. Rachel wants to go medical school and become a doctor, but that is expressly forbidden, especially for the daughter of a respected Rabbi. A few blocks away, Joshua Eubanks lives in a world where violence, drugs and gangs are an everyday part of life. After getting in trouble with the police, Joshua is given to opportunity to redeem himself by working as a janitor at Rabbi Weissman’s temple. Joshua also falls in love with Rachel, who returns his love but is unable to fully express her feelings.
Neither Joshua or Paul know that they are half brothers. As they grow up, stay in love with Rachel and watch as the enmity between their two communities builds, neither knows how the tension will finally explode into mistrust, violence and destruction.
This book is incredible. A Shakespearean tragedy wrapped in the thorny issues of race, religion, politics and class, this book grabs the reader and does not let go until the last page.
This book is a must read.