A review of the novel Marching to Zion by Mary Glickman

The Story: Magnus Bailey fell in love with Minerva Fishbein the minute he scooped this flaming haired child out of her sorrowful father’s arms, to help them off the boat in St. Louis. The problem was, Magnus didn’t know how much in love he was until it was too late. With all his business savvy and aplomb, could Magnus figure out a way for a Black man and a Jewish woman to live together in peace?

My Review

After reading this plot summary, you might wonder about my review’s title when you first start reading this book. That’s because Glickman starts the story elsewhere – with a young Black girl named Mags who comes to work for Fishbein’s Funeral Home. In fact, it is almost as if Glickman started writing one story and it morphed into something else altogether. One might even think that Mags’s story is almost superfluous; it quickly fades into the background and only surfaces occasionally and superficially later on.

Despite the fact that Mags starts out having such a central role, and then becomes a minor character, she is still essential to the story. Her initial role is to ease us into understanding the sad Mr. Fishbein, as well as to help us see a much bigger picture. Part of that is the hatred and prejudice against Jews that nearly equaled that of African Americans. Of course, the time here is the early part of the 20th century, and the place is the central southern American states that had fought against the north to hold onto slavery. Glickman also recounts violent race riots of the times, and compares them to the pogroms Jews fled from in Europe. This is one reason many Jews later identified (and worked for) with the Civil Rights Movement.

Cover courtesy of Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.

Cover courtesy of Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.

Politics and history aside, this is a compelling story of slightly lesser known time in American history and two people who cannot love each other freely. The major part of this novel’s charm is how Glickman melds these two elements together so nicely. One can also appreciate Glickman’s ability to write dialogue with the perfect amount of dialect so that we understand everything, yet can still identify the Eastern Europeans the African Americans. This she does with enough local slang and Yiddish phrases to spice things up, but not overtly, which might overwhelm or confuse. Finally, she builds characters that are well rounded, evoking the appropriate emotions in her readers, all with an easy-going prose style.

Despite all these positive attributes, I did have some problems with this book. One was a section later in the story that felt somewhat heavy. Although generally well written and interesting, these passages seemed a bit overly detailed, focusing too much on minor characters for my liking. This happened again just after the major climax of the story. While this second instance was only handful of paragraphs, I think it slightly lessened the impact of both the climax and conclusion by keeping them in.

Finally, I did have an underlying feeling that the title might put some people off (especially these days). Let’s hope it doesn’t dissuade people from reading it (or spamming this post with hateful comments). Glickman weaves a fascinating tale with characters we can believe in, and a forceful plot line. That means this deserves a solid four out of five stars and comes well recommended.

NG Apple_NetGalley Health Rev 3“Marching to Zion” by Mary Glickman, published on November 12, 2013 by Open Road Integrated Media, Inc is available from the Book Depository paperback from Barnes & Noble, via iBooks, from Kobo or from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an advance reader copy of this book via NetGalley.

(This is a revised version of the review that originally appeared on {the now defunct} Yahoo! Voices.)