“New York,” the ambitious new novel by Edward Rutherford, begins in 1664, the year New Amsterdam was bought by the Dutch. The author presents interesting United States history through the lives of strong, vivid characters. Plot and subplots are suspenseful and keep the reader interested through all of its 860 pages. Even to readers well-versed in the history of New York, there will be some surprises.
One such may be the John Peter Zenger trial of 1735. Zenger, the defendant, was a printer who had printed seditious material about the governor of New York. Though what he had printed was true, he had nonetheless broken the law that stated one could not publish inflammatory material.
At the start of the trial, most people felt Zenger’s case was already lost, but when young Alexander Hamilton, a lawyer from Philadelphia, was brought in to defend Zenger, the trial became a high-profile case when. Hamilton recognized that Zenger was guilty as charged, but introduced a new legal fact: English law also held that the jury had the final vote. The jury voted Zenger not guilty, in the American colonies’ first step into free press and free speech.
This novel follows the Masters family from 1664, when the first immigrant stepped off the boat in New Amsterdam, through subsequent Masters descendants until September 11, 2001, when New York has become a vibrant city of immigrants, old money, artists and bankers, people struggling for a better way of life or for fame and recognition.
As the author follows the Masters family through its successive generations, the he introduces other immigrant families also making their way in the city. Fortunes are made and lost. The grandchildren of impoverished bricklayers come to own apartments on Park Avenue, while the grandchildren of some of the wealthiest lose it all. This is a sweeping novel that will keep readers enthralled and bring to light a fascinating piece of history.