A Penny For the Violin Man by Eli Rill ISDN 978-0-615-33807-1

Rill writes a historical fiction novel detailing the life of a second generation German Jew growing up and living in New York City. Norman Schecter is the main character. Norman was born on New Year’s Day 1899/1900. Through the book he ages to 105 years old. There are segments interspersed from both the past and the future in book time. The Prologue begins with Norman at 99 entering the Twin Towers on 9/11. He turns 100 shortly thereafter. Chapter 1 reverts to the Summer of 1937, on Amboy Street in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.

From the tenements of Depression Brownsville, Norman is trying to organize the teachers into a union while losing his part time teaching position with the school system.  Countering Norman’s main character is the title character going by George Dakis. Showing vignettes of the Violin man performing in the back of the tenements for pennies thrown by shy listeners Rill shows a talented and honor-bound performer, seeking anonymity in the borough. The Violin Man’s real name is Manos Pulyakis which is revealed in glimpses from his past that provide the motivation for his immigration. The Violin Man’s tale gives an excellent break with very interesting overtones added to the plot twists.

The reader learns of the many people active in Norman’s life, or in some cases, the lives he is most active in. There is Alan the boyhood friend whose father is losing money on his furrier business. There is Marsa, Norman’s wife. She is a Russian Jew, who has immigrated to marry Norman while her family stayed in Germany. The family connections are very strong for Norman’s parents are present and active in Norman’s life. Ira is Norman’s son. Ira has the attention of the neighborhood bully but is deft at diplomacy whether dealing with a bully or his arguing grandparents. There is “Finky”, Charlie Finkelstein’s wife, Charlie being the local ne’er-do-well in jail through the first years of the book. Hers is a twisted tale that adds depth to the story. There is Elissa Jackman, the promising activist pupil of Norman’s trying to organize the students against Administration demands. She is permanently disabled from falling off a fence during a protest and provides many thought provoking ideas for Norman and the reader.

The many minor characters are as interesting, if more stereotypical. There are the others in the union, Jerry Goldstein, a hard nosed card carrying Communist, Mark Dysart, an almost reactionary supporter of more agreement with the administration to gain back  jobs for the unemployed, and Connie Washington, the “colored” member of the union trying to just get some equality for both women and blacks. In another union are Elissa’s parents who are also organizers and liberal thinkers disconcerted by Elissa’s accident.

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Rill is an excellent writer showing talent and follow-through. There are time changes, with memory reflections back to previous times in the various parts of the story. These do not seem to have any common elements appearing almost to be randomly placed throughout the book. As a sign of his talent though, the book is still very worth the read.

Rill has reconstructed the struggles and the desperation of the Depression Years in Norman’s life. He has depicted the spirit and the resolve that kept many sane throughout those devastating times. The drama of 911 is realistically depicted and as well its effect on Norman after having lost almost everyone that he knew during his younger years. The plot is full of tragedy, loss and yet a stoic optimism that life is to be lived with what each is given.

Any history buffs, any Jewish and Depression buffs and almost anyone wanting an excellent read should get this book. It is worth effort to follow this tale to its completion.

4.5 Stars

Published by Circle of Life Publishing, 8901 Eton Ave., #109, Canoga Park, CA 91304  (www.apennyfortheviolinman.com) (SRP $24.95/Amazon $18.96) Reviewer received the book from the publicist.