The Sugar House: Jean Scheffler

When I received this book I was extremely excited to get started; I am particularly a fan of historical fiction and I have always loved the idea of the bustling 1920’s. In accordance with this I have always loved the way in which authors can take you from your very own home to a new world, with new smells, new characters, new sights and especially new feelings. An author can take you somewhere and make you fear for your life, or make you fall in love or like here, make you feel like you are a child all over again, finding your feet whilst exploring a new world. So you can imagine how excited I was to be taken back to Detroit, a world of gangster’s, flappers and lawlessness! I must admit I was extremely excited to start reading and as I delved into the past I found myself in Detroit ‘the’ place to be. So let me transport you there now, in this review. Get ready…here we go!

Joe (not Joseph) is a delightful young boy growing up in Detroit, he is not only seemingly adorable and sweet natured but he is adventurous and excitable, with a strong love of all things new; especially fast boats and even faster cars! Anything that he sees invigorates his imagination and makes him want to learn. In his tiny little world he navigates between his family’s strong Polish traditions, and the electric atmosphere of America’s fastest growing city, a city of bright lights and change! However, a devastating sudden illness and abrupt death causes Joe to grow up and find himself in the new world of Detroit. Joe must take control and find himself quicker than he ever thought he would have to! Joe finds work with a group of Jewish immigrants that have taken on the name of the ‘Sugar House Gang,’ (note the title of the book!) They help Joe to support his family by having him run liquor up the river with the notorious Cappie. Cappie soon becomes not only Joe’s mentor but he also becomes a strong friend, and notably a new family member. Together they must race through the “Prohibition Era of the Roaring Twenties” trying to avoid the law and rival gangsters while striving to satisfy the murderous leaders of what is to become the infamous Purple Gang. Wow, sounds brilliant doesn’t it! This book is an incredible showing of how brilliant historical fiction can really be. Transported back to the 1920’s, Scheffler not only tells the story of the adorable Joe, but also helps to teach the reader so much of the social history of Detroit. The book mostly covers the years from the 1915’s until right into the 1930’s, and tells of the years in which the City expands greatly and becomes the engine of the United States of America. However we do not see the development of the city through the highflying businessmen or even the flappers but instead through the opening eyes of a little immigrant Polish boy, with a huge heart. Born to a Polish immigrant family, Joe watches and documents the new world that the immigrants find themselves in and tells of the struggles for work and for finding yourself in a new place and trying to find ownership. In the book Scheffler manages to construct this world for us and develops the characters so beautifully and with such a romanticist style that you cannot help but fall in love with the family. We are drawn into this community and are made to almost feel at home; this is due mainly to the sheer knowledge that Scheffler has drawn on and placed into the book. The description and knowledge that the author manages to place into the book has such depth and the characters really sing, which is a credit to the author. The book follows Joe, as he must have faith in his will to survive and do what is best for not only him but also for his family whilst staying true to deeply entrenched Catholic beliefs.

This book is such a credit to the author. I would definitely recommend this to any reader; whether you have been to the ‘Motor City,’ or not, it should definitely be placed on your reading list, because if you read it, due to the detail and sheer sense of understanding from the author, you could definitely kid yourself that you have been there and experienced everything you are reading! One thing to note at this point is that this book is definitely a literary adventure rather than madly entertaining but do not let that put you off (PLEASE!) Instead we are taken on a journey that I will definitely not forget for a while. Another high point is the description, it does not waver throughout the book; you can honestly picture every single detail from the plumes of white smoke fuelling from the steamer boats, to the smell of Polish cooking, the smell of sugar, the hot and heavy exhaust fumes that fill the nose and make it hard to breath. The book will take you on a adventure as you discover along with Joe the new city constructing in front of your very eyes. Another point to re-mention is the amount of information that the author manages to get across to the reader; it is so obvious the amount of work that has been put into this book and it really shows. You do not for a minute doubt the believability or how genuine the book is, but instead you find yourself immersed in the story and in the city! Brilliant and definitely (definitely, definitely) worth a read!

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1 Comment

  1. April 9, 2014 / 1:19 am

    Ooh, this sounds amazing! I love the roaring 20’s and historical fiction. Going on my list. Thanks Lizzy!

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