The author's grandfather was the inspiration for the protagonist of this novel.
The Last Brother by Andrew Gross.
The story of Morris Rabishevski, the hero of this novel, is based on the life of Fred Pomerantz – the greatly revered grandfather of the author. Pomerantz was born in New York in 1902 into a poor Jewish migrant family. He left school at the age of 12 to learn the garment trade, and rapidly worked his way up the ladder and eventually founded the Leslie Fay Company, named after his daughter. It was a fascinating period in history – the garment industry in New York at the time was dominated by the ‘Jewish mob’, in cahoots with the Mafia. The Jewish mob controlled the clothing manufacturing unions and ruthlessly exploited both employers and employees. Yet Pomerantz was a man of integrity and toughness, who not only survived but prospered in this environment.
No wonder, then, that Pomerantz was the inspiration for the protagonist of this novel – Morris Rabishevski. In a compelling matter-of-fact style, Gross evokes Morris’s boyhood and his need to earn money for his family from an early age; he is a character eager to do well and work hard. As Morris lives in a dangerous environment, he learns to look after himself even if that means getting into fights he would rather avoid. A short spell in the army helps to further toughen Morris up, also giving him a taste of the anti-semitism rife in that organisation.
Morris starts work in the garment trade. His employer says, ‘Rabishevski is a fine Russian name but it’s a mouthful for some people here . . . what if we called you Raab?’ The newly re-named Morris is a quick learner and fast masters the art of cutting cloth to maximise profits. This gets him promoted and eventually leads him to start his own garment-manufacturing company. He persuades one of his brothers to join him and names the company Raab Brothers. Meanwhile, his oldest brother is a charming ne’er-do-well who would rather hang out with friends who appear to be connected to the Jewish mob.
Morris meets and marries an upper-class young woman, Ruthie. She is charming and intelligent, and can sense what a wonderful person this tough uneducated man is. They have a daughter called Leslie, and some time later another daughter, Lucy, and a son called Samuel. By this time, the Raab Brothers business is profitable and selling clothing lines named after their daughters.
Having family responsibilities and a growing profitable business makes Morris more vulnerable, In his world, gangsters bribe the police and those in power to overlook their unspeakable behaviour. Arson and murder are weapons used to force businesses to pay financially crippling protection money and to force employees to pay high union dues, which go into the gangsters’ own pockets.
How Morris reacts to all this, and how the few honest people in law enforcement – like Special Prosecutor Thomas E. Dewy – help to combat the Jewish mob and other gangsters leads to the exciting climax of the novel.
The Last Brother is a blockbuster that can be read for its thrill-a-minute entertainment value. It has a fast-moving plot and an array of fascinating characters, not least some of the leading criminals of the time. An additional bonus for the reader is that this novel is a convincing recreation of a period in American history that should not be forgotten.
3 ½ stars ★★★☆
The Last Brother
By Andrew Gross
Release Date: 20 September 2018