” On October 29, Black Tuesday, as it came to be known, the market started to fall again . . . The truth, though few would admit it, was that every financial establishment in America was insolvent. ” (Ch.26, p.297)
Kane and Abel pitches the two title characters against the cataclysmic events of the twentieth century; circumstances render their paths intertwine in their ruthless struggle to build a fortune. The story is told in alternating narratives that concern Kane and Abel, parallel storylines in worlds apart, from their birth, the early years, the adulthood, up until the fateful day in American history on which the New York stock market crashed. It’s the financial crisis that brings about their convergence.
The old woman took the banknotes, crumpled each one into a little ball and laid them carefully in the grate. They kindled immediately. She placed twigs and small logs on top of the blazing zlotys and sat down by her fire, the best in weeks, rubbing her hands together, enjoying the warmth. (Ch.45, p.512)
William Lowell Kane and Abel Rosnovski are not brothers. They are not related. The only thing they have in common is birthday. But the circumstances by which they were born and raised were like heaven and hell. Kane is the son of a rich banker who later dies in the sinking of Titanic. Kane has shown mathematical talent and financial acumen early on, making imaginary stock investment and bucking the market. By age 21 he inherits the family estate and is invited to join the board of the bank. He’s a Harvard graduate who inherits money whose doubtful origins were safely buried under generations of respectability. If Kane was born into a life of wealth and privilege, Abel was orphaned immediately after birth and penniless. The Baron who takes a liking to the clever boy was killed by Germans as they raided the castle. Then he was thrown into Russian labor camp. In America he works his way up from a junior waiter to become the chairman of a hotel chain. Along the way he earns a BA in economics from Columbia, and strips of his Polish accent. Abel belongs to a new generation of Americans who fulfills his dream.
Archer takes reader through history with these two men and their families. Titanic, World War I, The Great Depression, McCarthyism, and all the way through the 60s. Lives, deaths, politics, finance, power struggles, love, hatred, empire building, and revenge saturate this novel. It is, after all, the story of two men, from totally different social classes, driven by their inspirations of success, wealth and power who are caught up in a life-long feud. It’s a vendetta held by the hotelier on the banker because of a loan refused by the bank during the crash of 1929, made worse by inaccurate assumptions and misunderstandings. Ensued are varying levels of adversity, setbacks, and competition. They are arrogant but not bad people—they are hardworking and loyal to their causes. The book is wildly readable and captivating, with each chapter ending in cliffhanger. The book might become predictable toward the end, but Archer holds me riveted.
637 pp. St. Martin. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]