In June of 1904, Minetta Lane was the roughest street of the dangerous area of New York City known as The Bend. It is to this street that twenty-year-old Bodee Rivers comes to find his Grandma Juba after his mother dies. Since he was two years old, Bodee’s mother was estranged from Grandma Juba and thus Bodee feels a bit like a stranger as he navigates the toughs, both Irish and Colored, on his initial approach. He is quickly informed that as Juba’s grandson he is protected thanks to her Voudou ways and the fear she has instilled in the various gangs. Conversations with his grandma help him to discover that his disjointed dreams are prophetic; in this respect he is like Grandma Juba who recognized the gift in him even during his infancy.
After several attempts at finding work, Bodee becomes a porter for the Knickerbocker Steamship Company and is set to work on their flagship the S. S. Grande Republic. After only a short time on the job, he is loaned for the to the S.S. General Slocum which will be hosting a group of over one thousand German immigrant families on a church outing. Bodee soon realizes that all of his dreams and visions have led him to this place and the weight of impending disaster presses heavily on him. Will the skinny youth who usually runs from confrontation be strong enough to stand up to fate or will he choose to save himself? Will he call upon the strength of his ancestors that courses through his veins and help others in need? A secondary story of Edward Murphy Junior, the abandoned child turned Newsie, gives a glimpse of another facet of life during this period. His friendship with Two-Tooth Tommy and Mrs. Gerda Heinrich is endearing.
Minetta Lane is the third volume in A. Robert Allen’s “Slavery and Beyond” series; to this reader it is by far his best work to date. The story is fast-paced and although chock full of historical facts and scenarios it is far from being a textbook. Author Allen has set his engaging and multi-layered characters against the backdrop of turn-of-the-century New York City and one of the city’s most horrific disasters.
This reviewer gives Minetta Lane a solid five stars and looks forward to more from this exceptional author.
Rating: 5 stars