Blood in the Promised Land
Reviewed by Richard R. Blake for Reader Views (4/11)
At the height of World War II another intense confrontation is spawning divisive hostilities on America’s home front. Wartime production jobs have lured thousands of poor blacks from the rural South to defense jobs in the North.
In “Blood of the Promised Land” Eliot Sefrin interweaves the separate life journeys of two men: Roosevelt Turner, a young black migrant who flees the South to work in Pittsburgh’s flourishing steel industry and Jacob Perlman, a Jewish physician forced to escape Nazi-occupied Austria.
Eliot describes, with heart-breaking pathos, Roosevelt’s traumatic reaction to the massacre of family members by a crazed crowd driven by frenzy to acts of mayhem and murder. Orphaned and alone, Roosevelt’s every waking moment is plagued with visions of the vigilante mob, their unchecked rage, violence, and blind groundless malice.
Jacob and his family experienced total humiliation at the hands of Hitler’s Gestapo police. Their property was confiscated or destroyed. They were forced to flee their homeland to save their lives. After immigrating to America, Jacob maintained his dream of a better life.
The impact of this influx of displaced peoples on American’s major cities exposed prejudice, bias, and underlying animosities. Industrial centers became the breeding ground of racial conflict. Race riots and hate strikes beset factories, shipyards, and defense production, as whites attempted to impose long-held racial barriers, against blacks who discovered that the dream of entering “the promised land” is unrealized and has only exchanged the South’s Jim Crow harassment to the Northern bias, injustice, and bigotry.
Roosevelt and Jacob have been shaped by the stigma of the past, by racial or ethnic identity. They both hope to rebuild their life. In the midst of an incident of violent racial conflict their paths cross. An unlikely bond propels them into the crucible of the civil rights movement. They valiantly join forces in an effort to defeat a terrorist hate group.
Sefrin carefully lays the foundation for his story. His images are extraordinary, his character development amazing. He has created believable characters from opposite ends of the professional and economic spectrum. He brilliantly uses southern dialect and Jewish idioms in his dialog. He is equally at ease with creating the caricature of southern sheriff as with a newspaper editor, FBI agent, churchmen, or family members. Sefrin’s writing is so intense and authentic that I often lost sight of the fact that I was reading a fictional account. I found myself drawn into the emotions of the outrage and the toll of suffering experienced by his protagonists.
The Second World War, waged from 1939-45, has inspired countless novels of the era. “Blood in the Promised Land” is unique among them as it gives the reader a glimpse in the unresolved issue of bias, prejudice, and bigotry prevalent in our nation.