After graduating the University of Florida and a stint in the National Guard, Richard worked 35 years in the textile industry. Always an avid reader, upon retirement Richard began writing mystery, suspense and historical fiction novels. When not writing, he spends his time sailing and growing roses. He has two married daughters and lives in New Jersey with his wife. His book, Silk Legacy is available at Amazon.
Silk Legacy by Richard Brawer
In early twentieth century Paterson, New Jersey, dashing twenty-nine year old Abraham Bressler charms naïve nineteen year old Sarah Singer into marriage by making her believe he feels the same way she does about the new calling of a modern woman. He then turns around and gives her little more respect than he would a servant, demanding she stay home to care for “his” house and “his” children.
Feeling betrayed Sarah defies him and joins women’s groups, actively participating in rallies for woman suffrage, child welfare and reproductive freedom. For a while she succeeds in treading delicately between the demands of her husband and her desire to be an independent woman. Her balancing act falters when a strike shuts down Paterson’s 300 silk mills. With many friends working in the mills, Sarah is forced to choose sides in the battle between her Capitalist husband and his Socialist brother, a union leader who happens to be her best friend’s husband.
Jealousy, infidelity, arrogance, greed—the characters’ titanic struggles will catapult you into the heights of their euphoria and the depths of their despair. Who will triumph and who will be humbled is not certain until the last page.
[Note: Although it says at the end of the movie the book is available in both print and e-book, that is no longer the case. The publisher has gone bankrupt and the book is now only available on Kindle for $2.99.]
This review was originally published at Red Adept Reviews on August 10, 2011.
Overall: 5 stars
Plot/Storyline: 5 stars
Good historical fiction teaches us a bit of history while weaving an interesting story told through the experiences of the story’s characters, both real and fictional. The author of Silk Legacy, Richard Brawer, did a bang-up job of taking an event–The Great Silk Strike of 1913–which today is just a footnote of history, and making it come alive.
A hundred years ago, the city of Paterson, New Jersey, was the silk-producing capital of the world. More than 300 mills produced vast quantities of silk products from thread to finished fabrics. Workers toiled long hours under wretched conditions for miniscule wages, typical for manufacturing industries of that era. A series of small, poorly-organized strikes failed to bring about change, which ultimately led to the massive strike in 1913. Silk Legacy was an account of the events leading up to that strike and the five months of the strike itself. During the early 20th century, the small local craft and trade unions were giving way to national organizations like the American Federation of Labor (AFL). During the strike, both the AFL and the IWW (International Workers of the World) fought for control of the striking workers. Much of the story involved the bitter clash between the AFL, which aimed to get better working conditions and better pay, and the IWW, which advocated a revolution where the workers would seize the factories and get rid of the bosses and owners (i.e., the Marxist Utopia – if you’re read Animal Farm or Atlas Shrugged, you know how that turned out).
That’s the historical backdrop the story was played out against. The characters included both real and fictional figures. The primary fictional characters were the Bressler family. The relationships between the three Bressler brothers and their families, and their involvement with the strike made for an absorbing page-turner of a novel.
Note: I looked up some of the people and events of the 1913 Paterson strike. As obscure as the event is to us today–almost a hundred years later–there’s a lot of information online, including photographs of many historical figures and places in the book. Seeing these photos really made the story come alive. While I was reading Silk Legacy, I kept thinking of the similarities to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, so I wasn’t too surprised when Upton Sinclair made a cameo appearance in the story!
Characters: 5 stars
The events of the story were told through the eyes of the Bressler family, who, like many of the mill workers, were recent immigrants who came from Europe to America in search of a better life. Abe Bressler, through shrewdness and hard work, had become a jobber of silk thread and eventually a mill owner. His wife, Sarah, was a good wife and mother, and she became involved in the suffrage movement for women’s rights, particularly the right to vote. One of Abraham’s brothers, Solomon, worked at a mill and was a union activist, which put the two brothers in conflict, which deeply affected the entire family.
Although fictional, the Bressler family was made up of flesh-and-blood characters. They laughed, loved, argued, fought, and had adulterous affairs.
The majority of the characters, including political leaders, and local, national, and international union leaders, were real people.
Writing style: 5 stars
The writing style was as polished and professional-looking as I’ve seen. Dialogues were realistic and often served to emphasize the enormity of the conflict and the high stakes involved.
The author clearly did some serious research into the story, and also did a marvelous job of working the fictional characters into the historical story. One of the most interesting aspects of the story was learning about the manufacturing of silk, beginning with imported silkworm cocoons (a single cocoon may yield up to three thousand feet of silk filaments) and going through the entire process, with the silk fabric being woven on huge looms.
A nice touch were the endnotes that gave some historical perspective and tied up some loose historical ends.
Editing: 4 1/2 stars
There were a fair number of misspellings (the ubiquitous “its/it’s” and “your/you’re” mix-ups, “a field” instead of “afield,” “phase” instead of “faze”), but frankly, the story was compelling enough that I hardly noticed them.
5.0 out of 5 stars additional reviews, March 4, 2011
“I loved this book. The characters are so real…It is by far the best novel I have read on the Silk Strike of 1913.” Angelica Santomauro, director, The American Labor Museum, Botto House Landmark, 83 Norwood Street Haledon, NJ 07508. Pietro Botto’s House was a major staging point for labor rallies. Angelica Santomauro is an authority on the labor movement in Paterson during the silk era.
Richard Brawer, in his epic historical Silk Legacy, takes the reader inside a little-known world of the silk industry. Weaving the history by use of a family that is divided between bosses and lay-workers, he does it as skillfully as the looms themselves wove the finest fabrics of the era. He captures not only the feeling of the era, but does it with warmth and affection through a trying love story. His characters are magnificent. I adored them, in spite—or perhaps because—of their shortcomings. Janet Elaine Smith, author of best-selling, award winning Keith trilogy
“Richard Brawer uses Silk Legacy to demonstrate his remarkable storytelling skills. Vivid and enticing characters reveal themselves in the exciting and realistic backdrop of the labor movement in the early 1900’s. Each personality is thoroughly and uniquely drawn, and leaves a lasting impression. The added historical accuracy is an enjoyable bonus. From start to finish, Silk Legacy is simply a wonderful book. Highly recommended.” Nancy Morris for Allbooks reviews
“Silk Legacy is a family saga about the struggle for life during hard times and surviving and trusting family. It’s one of the most heart-touching stories I have ever read…I haven’t just enjoyed this book, I have loved it from the first page ’till the last one. Richard Brawer has written it in a way that makes you feel like you’re inside the story, as if you know the characters, as if they are part of your life…Silk Legacy is a book I won’t easily forget.” Annick for Euro Reviews
“Passion, greed, arrogance and romance abound in this tribulation of yesteryear.” Midwest Book Review
“Silk Legacy is a fast moving, richly detailed saga that traces the struggles of an extended family trying to adapt and succeed in the Golden Land in the early 1900s. A deft story teller with a knack for plot twists, Brawer takes the reader on a classic immigrant’s journey from Latvia to Ireland to New Jersey where his lead character uses any means necessary to cash in on the American dream…. Like a loom weaving strands of yarn to create a multicolored textured fabric, Brawer combines various plot and character elements to create a large, variegated picture of American society at a combustible moment.” New Jersey Jewish News
Read more about the history or Paterson, NJ, America’s first industrial city at: www.silklegacy.com