Taken on the basis of sheer story interest alone, Louis Golding’s latest novel, “Five Silver Daughters” (Farrar and Rinehart), is one of the most fascinating that I have read in a long, long time. If you thought “Magnolia Street” delightful reading, as it was, you have in store for you a far richer treat.
“Magnolia Street” was pleasant reading, although it stayed among the people of one street in the poorer part of an English provincial city, obscure, unimportant men and women out of whom Mr. Golding created characters whose daily affairs and whose destinies seemed vital, when not merely picturesque. If the book had a defect, and it wasn’t so subtle a defect it could be ignored, it was that there was more than a touch of racial exhibitionism in it, as if Mr. Golding were saying: “See how interesting and picturesque and human we slum Jews can be?” There was a little bit of a Fannie Hurst gurgling in “Magnolia Street.”
Therefore, I opened “Five Silver Daughters” with a little misgiving and the misgiving seemed justified for the first hundred pages or more, although these pages were none the less interesting in story content. The action of this book starts in an humble home on a street paralleling Magnolia, Oleander street, in the home of an obscure tailor named Silver, who has a wife and five daughters. But as the book moved on it gained in interest, in reality, in momentum, in sincerity, in rich social documentation and in human interpretation of the documents, until there were times I almost had to tear myself away from it. And, when finally I came to Page 513 and to a conclusion which may be called happy, I was disappointed that the fascinating tale was ended.
“Magnolia Street” was interesting in spite of the fact that it stayed on Magnolia street; “Five Silver Daughters” is interesting, to put it at its mildest, because it ranges over half the globe, and because for every daughter there is a husband or a lover-and in some cases both-so that a most intricate web of relation is spun from that nondescrip house on Oleander street.
With Susan and Boris Polednik, her husband who becomes a Soviet Comissar, we enter Russia in the sealed car that brought Lenin through Germany and witness, on an intimate, rather than panoramic, scale what happened. I regard that passage in the book wherein Susan revisits her mother’s people in Terkass as one of the most moving sections in the book. Mr. Golding manipulates the long arm of coincidence to intensify the pathos of the situation, but that manipulation will be forgiven him for the consummate situation he has made out of it.
With Elsie and her husband, Lord Robert Malswetting-an abured name-we visit the flashy, rotten Riviera, and with Elsie and her lover, the Jew-hating Oskar von Straupitz-Kalmin, we visit Berlin during its inflation saturnalia, in which chapters Mr. Golding gives us a fascinating heap of social data, data of perversion and panic pleasure, when Germany was living in that hectic flush which suggests the approach of death.
THE OTHER SISTERS
With Sister May is linked the conscientious objector, the clerk-like mystic Harry Stonier, in a union of minds which outlasts the union of any other couple in the book, while Esther, the eldest, is so much the boss of the show, that one has not the vaguest recollection of her pedestrian Joe, while Sarah is pre-eminently the matriarch sister, wife of the most fantastic of the lot of husbands and ###?vers, Alexander Smirnof.
If “Five Silver Daughters” were ###?erudely sewn-together combination of five separat enovelettes, it would be interesting. But it is an integer, drawing sustenance from the separate interests evoked by the separate fates. Smirnof and Polednik are involved in as thrilling a covenant of hate as any novelist has pictured and with them is involved Straupitz-Kalmin and in the working out of that feud is involved the fantastic fortunes of Sam Silver, who began life, so far as this novel is concerned, with a 50-pound note won in a Dutch lottery which he paid over for a raincoat shop of old Horowitz who wanted the money so he could rest his bones in Palestine. In Smirnof there is a suggestion of the company promoter Kreuger and it isn’t until near the end, at that momentous meeting in the Berlin cafe, that his motivation becomes clear.
There are improbabilities in “Five Silver Daughters” but if there are improbabilities in life, as there are, why may not a novelist make use of them? And the fact is Mr. Golding has made use of them in a more workmanlike manner than life itself usually does.