The Lehman Trilogy

HarperVia. Jun. 2020. 720p. ISBN 9780062940445. $35.
Based on an internationally celebrated play that originated on Italian radio in 2012, this new novel by Massini (Ladies Football Club) is essentially about commerce, addressing the rise of Lehman Brothers. It begins in 1844, when Heyum Lehmann lands at Ellis Island, Americanizes his name to Henry Lehman, and hightails it to Alabama to escape the chilly northeast climate. After achieving modest success with a store specializing in dry goods and cotton products, Henry calls for his brothers Emanuel and Mayer to join him. Soon after, the idea of expanding into other ventures begins to germinate, and by book’s end there isn’t an area of commerce that the family hasn’t dabbled in and mostly profited from. What’s especially notable about this rags-to-riches story is how it’s told. It takes only a few pages to realize that what could have been a dense, fact-filled story is actually breezy and lyrical, moving quickly in Dixon’s fist-rate translation.
VERDICT With its vast scope, the book should appeal to readers of historical fiction, and fans of experimental fiction will enjoy Massini’s offbeat approach to the material. While keeping track of who’s who can be a bit difficult (there’s a helpful family tree), this challenging but ultimately rewarding read is a surprising pleasure. [See Prepub Alert, 12/2/19.]

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