As a young child in polyglot Kovno, in what is now Lithuania, Max Kraft had a clear vision of his own future and the wonderful adventures he was going to have in America. America! Where everyone spoke English, so that "no matter what anybody says or how anybody says it, everybody understands."
The Angel Max, which tells his story, is a narrative in the form of an immigrant memoir that is also part family saga and part novel of ideas. But, who is Angel Max? Born in 1866, he is an orphan, raised by rich relatives, educated and enlightened Jews. As a boy, he becomes obsessed with English and the novels of James Fenimore Cooper, while his siblings get caught up in the anarchist/nihilist revolutionary underground. He comes to America, to New York, and stays with relatives, not on the Lower East Side but in a townhouse in Greenwich Village. A sound marriage and equally sound business ventures, in real estate, make the American dream immediately come true—city and country property, servants, carriages—and, above all, insisting on speaking English at all times. Yiddish is not a language he holds in high regard. But there is the other side of the family—revolutionary stepsisters, a crazed, violent half-brother, an anarchist cousin by marriage—none other than "Red Emma" Goldman herself. They are in and out of his life, and Max becomes an "angel" for the anarchist cause, both out of sympathy as well as to keep them at a day-to-day distance. This ambiguity is rendered in a richly inventive novel filled with tragedy and high drama, infused with Chekhovian empathy and humor, and heady with ideas.
New York: Harcourt Brace, 1998
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