Wednesday, March 31, 2004


By John Jakes

At a time when the world stood on the brink of a new century, America struggled to find its place upon the global stage, and huddled masses of immigrants streamed across its borders with little more than the clothing on their backs and a yearning to breathe free. It was a time of innovation and invention, a birth of a new technological age, when labor collided violently with management; fathers with sons and America found itself in a war to set a country free.

"Homeland," John Jakes' epic tome is not set during the turbulent decade of 1990's (as one might expect after having read my introductory paragraph) but rather a full century earlier. Beginning where his "Kent Family Chronicles" left off in 1891, and ending in the first year of the twentieth century, 1901, Jakes begins a new cycle of novels with a new family, the Crowns of Chicago.

Jakes casts his protagonist, Pauli Kroner, as a young urchin, wandering the streets of Berlin. Orphaned, Pauli lives with his consumptive aunt, Charlotte, who, in a last act of selflessness sends Pauli to live with his uncle, Joseph Crown, who has amassed his fortune in the brewing trade of Chicago. But all is not happy in the Crown household. The forces of change at work in America are straining the family. Uncle Joe barely tolerates the progressive attitude of his wife Ilsa and has constant verbal clashes with his oldest son, Joe Jr., who has taken up sides with the socialist labor union movement, an issue which precipitates one final clash between father and son, after which Joe Jr. runs away and Pauli finds himself expelled from the household for aiding his cousin in his escape. Now known as Paul Crown he must eke out an existence in the streets of Chicago, and soon finds himself standing at the doorstep of the fledgling moving picture business as a camera operator and an eyewitness to history.

From the Pullman strike and the fairgrounds of Chicago's Colombian Exposition to the Cuban battlefields of the Spanish-American War John Jakes intricately weaves the historical events of the last decade of the nineteenth century throughout his novel and peppers it with historical Characters such as Theodore Roosevelt, Jane Addams, Clara Barton, Eugene Debs and Thomas Edison to name but a few.

John Jakes has earned the title "Godfather of the Historical Novel," and with "Homeland" the Crowns of Chicago can rightfully take their place beside the Kents of "The Kent Family Chronicles," the Hazard and Main families of the "North and South" trilogy, and the Chances of "California Gold."

No comments: