McCash has written an engrossing, deeply researched story of a well-to-do Jewish couple, Isador Straus and Ida Blun Straus, which opens in the mid-1800's and concludes with their deaths on the Titanic.
Straus' father, Lazarus, immigrated to the United States and began life as an itinerate peddler in a small Georgia town. He quickly became successful, then moved his family to Columbus, Georgia following an anti-Semitic incident.
Young Isador spent much of the Civil War time in Europe, not only helping the family business but also selling Confederate bonds. The book's sympathetic focus on the struggle of Southern businesses during the war paints a picture not often described in literature of that time. However, after the war and the destruction of Columbus, the family moved to New York and sunnier business prospects.
Throughout the book, McCash emphasizes the generous, progressive nature of family members. "Lazarus was gone, but none of his children ever forgot the example he set for integrity, diligence, and family harmony. Like him, they valued education, honesty, and hard work."
While the story centers on Isador and, later, Ida, the reader also learns much about Isador's brothers, Nathan and Oscar. Although the family did not consider themselves religious, they generously supported Jewish causes, such as organizations which assisted with the flood of Eastern European Jewish immigrants.
The Straus brothers became partners with the original Macy's owners and, when they later bought the company, became well known for their conscientious treatment of employees. Possibly because of their wealth, they did not often face discrimination or overt anti-Semitism. While they were not accepted into certain clubs and their grandchildren were turned away from prestigious private schools, all three of Isador and Ida's sons graduated from Harvard.
In their final days, passengers on the ill-fated Titanic, Ida reportedly refused to leave Isador's side as the ship went down. When this fact was broadcast throughout the country, the couple's loyalty and love became an inspiration to many. McCash writes their story with craft, sensitivity, and engagement.
June Hall McCash is the author, co-author, or editor of seven books, six nonfiction works and a historical novel, for which she won the 2011 Georgia Author of the Year Award for first novel. She holds a BA from Agnes Scott College, and MA and Ph.D. degrees from Emory University. Before becoming a full-time writer, McCash was founding director of the university honors program and chair of the department of Foreign Languages at Middle Tennessee State University. She divides her time between Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and Jekyll Island, Georgia.
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