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January 20, 1978 - Image 20

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1978-01-20

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

20 Friday, January 20, 1978

IBM

`Members of the Tribe Expertly Written Tale of Hatred

Typewriters Selectric etc.

By HEIDI PRESS

$400

Writer-editor Richard
Kluger has produced a
frightening and exciting

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new novel. "Members of the
Tribe," which will inspire
Jewish readers to consider
what the typical American
thinks about the Jewish ex-
istence in this country.
Published by Doubleday,
Kluger's "Members of the
Tribe" is based on the Leo
M. Frank case of the early
1900s in which a Jew.
Frank, was convicted on
sketchy evidence and sub-
sequently lynched—owing to
mob mentality and not by
government sanction—for
the murder of a young gen-
tile girl employed at the
same establishment as he.
Set in post-Civil War Sav-
annah, Ga., the book is a
frightening reminder of
what results from the
spread of hatred. It leads
one to believe ,that per-
secutions felt by Jews in the
Diaspora can happen here.
Divided in three sections
reflecting views of different
generations, the novel re-
calls the life of Seth Adler, a
New York-born Jew, who
finds fascination with the
South and leaves his home
for new experiences in an
extremely different world
than what he knew in
Brooklyn.
In Savannah, young Adler
is employed by a Jew-hating
black-hating dry goods en-
trepreneur who has most of
the populace of the Sav-
annah environs politically
and economically tied up
around his little finger. The
owner, Gus Griffin, is hard
on the bright, young Jew
from New York, but in
time, Adler's ingenuity and
managerial skills impress
Griffin and he softens his
attitude toward the young
man. So much so, that Adler
is offered a partnership in
the company with benefits
galore if he renounces his
Judaism for Christianity.
The boy declines the offer to
pursue a career in law.
In the first book of the
three-part novel, Kluger
renders a skillfully present-
ed description of the South-
ern way of life, the Southern
mentality and attitudes. It
never becomes tedious, and
is necessary as a warm-up
for the impact that is

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achieved in the latter por-
tion of the story. However,
the key to the novel can be
seen in this portion when
Adler, well into his legal
career. is planning the de-
fense of the Frank-based
character. Noah Berg
(Berkowitz):

characters are inventions.
A Populist, Watson's early
political career was bent on
what was considered radi-
calism at the time—easing
the farmers' tax responsi-
bility and imposing a gradu-
ated income tax. In essence.
he was the protector of the
people. How strange that
when the Berg murder case
was popularized throughout
the South that he later be-
came the publisher of
venomous hate-sheet, which
sprewed vicious anti Semi-
tic filth in its pages.
In that setting Adler was
charged with the defense of
Berg. It's not a tale for
children's ears, but the les-
sons it teaches and the
warning to be cautious it
inspires makes the book
worthy of more than a lei-
surely glance.
Kluger's erudite style
should not offend. It is not
tedious and only embel-
lishes the general atmos-
phere in which the tale is
told. The easy-goingcliched
Southern lifestyle, the Bible-
toting Christian outlook
added to the general post-
war state of the South swal-
low up the reader in its
believability.
An artist in his descrip-
tionS, Kluger, a non-lawyer
renders a courtroom pre-
sentation reminiscent of all
the famous court trials.
Kluger purposely and
skillfully links his tale to
history. The events contain-
ed in - Members of the
Tribe" parallel economic,
political and social changes
in America from the post-

-

LEO FRANK

"I wondered why all the
obsessive interest. The At-
lanta man shoved his hat
back and gave his suspen-
ders a few portentous snaps.
`Well now, I'll tell ya,' he
said. 'Partly it's because a
little white working girl ,got
killed, and that always
plucks the heartstrings. And
partly it's because the de-
fendant is a Jew and a
Yankee, and you couldn't
hardly have a more villain-
ous combination. I mean
niggers get strung up a
dime a dozen for lookin'
cross-eyed at a white worn-
an's butt, so there'd be no
novelty in that.
" 'And a poor-white boy'd
be likely to get a lot of
syinpathy. People'd figure
he was just bein' playful or
tryin' to spread his oats and
the girl became a little too
fidgety. But a genuine Jew?
Why, that's a twist. Jews
are exciting. They're for-
eign — even if they're not,
they seem that way in most
of Georgia — and smart and
rich and look kinda spooky,
like Noah Berg. Everybody
knows they're tightfisted
amd money-crazy, no mat-
ter what-all nice things get
said about 'em. And of
course his being a Yankee
Jew to boot makes him just
perfect to hate. On top o'
which, most of these people
around the state got nothin'
to do this time o' year ex-
cept sit and whittle and
watch the crops grow by
day and count June bugs by
night. It's quiet as a lizard
out there, so all they do is
talk about the murder of
this poor innocent girl-child
and how Berg's eyes're gon-
na pop right out of his skull
when the noose is sprung.' "
There may not as well
have been a trial. The sen-
tence was already pro-
claimed before the man
even was brought before the
jury.
That hatred is given a
boost with the character of
Tom Watson, a real-life
Southern politician who ex-
isted at the time of the
Frank case who may have
had a hand in the Frank
lynching. All of the other

Civil War period to the pre-
sent.
It is also a Jewish story in
that it traces a portion of
the history of the Jew in
America, his struggle
, against anti-Semitism and
his rise in various spheres.
Richard Kluger's "Mem-
bers of the Tribe" is certain
to gain respect for its erudi-
tion, accuracy and social
value.

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