Author: Elyce Wakerman
Publisher: Yucca Publishing
Based on a true story of Elyce Wakerman's father, A Tale of Two Citizens is a poignant and skillfully crafted tender novel that stands out as a vivid depiction of time and place.
In 1929 following his father's emigration to the USA in 1922, Yankel (Harry) Himelbaum emigrated to the United States from Wlodawa, Poland. Prior to his emigration, Harry had learned that his fiancée, Reizel Lansky was pregnant and thus he postponed his initial voyage to marry her. Three months later Harry, leaves his wife, mother and siblings in Poland, promising he would bring them to the golden land arrives at Ellis Island. When questioned by the immigration inspector if he was married, Harry replies he wasn't, contrary to the information indicated on his visa. In addition, he never divulges to his family including his father that he was married to Reizel even though he and his father both live under the same roof in New York.
In Ellis Island and unbeknownst to Harry was a a Special Inquiry inspector, Will Brown whose path would eventually cross that of Harry's resulting in some torturing consequences that would follow him for the next stressful ten years. All of this is the consequence of his claiming to be unmarried at the time of his entry into the USA. And as we will discover, Will turns out to be a cold, young, fervently dedicated attorney who is bent on upholding the nation's laws and keeping America pure from alien influence.
After settling in New York, Harry and his father Izzy share living quarters and eventually enter into the business of selling fruits and vegetables from a pushcart. Unfortunately, the business is not a success and Harry sells the pushcarts, eventually finding work at a friend's fruit and vegetable store. It was at this time that Harry meets Barbara Brown, the wife of the immigration attorney, Will Brown. Barbara often would frequent the fruit store and carry on light conversations with Harry, who was infatuated with her. Little did Harry realize that Barbara would play an important role in his future.
What stands out in this novel is that Wakerman has achieved a form of realism which makes its historical setting immediate and vivid. In addition, drawing heavily on historical record, she seamlessly interweaves real people with actual events including the plight of Polish Jews prior to the Holocaust, the Iowa Dust Bowl in the 1930's, the stringent US immigration laws in the 1920s and 30s, the economic depression years, the painful lives of immigrants barely being able to stay alive, contrasting social stratas, conflicting pressures of circumstances, anti-Semitism, and the detainment and deportation that transpired at Ellis Island, which was an often- heartbreaking contrast to the joy and relief of coming to America. Mention should also be made about the novel's pace and characters that secure the reader's interest and ultimately their endearment. In the end A Tale of Two Citizens is an impressive achievement that will live on in our imaginations long after we put it down.