Published 1977 by Doubleday & Co.
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Seth Adler, setting out alone from New York in the latter part of the nineteenth century as a young Jew in quest of a freer, open life in the Southland, was sure all adversity could be overcome by courage and perseverance. In his struggle to build a place for himself, first as an enterprising merchant and then as a skillful lawyer in Savannah, he meets both kindness and cruelty in winning the respect, however grudging at times, of the Gentile community. And then Noah Berg, a fellow Jew, comes to town.
A generation younger than Seth, Noah advances by ingenuity and drive to the position of superintendent of a soda-pop producing factory without ever coming to terms with the Christian society that surrounds him. Early one Sunday morning in the spring of 1913, a pretty teenage employee named Jean Dugan is found murdered in the basement of Noah’s factory. Based on a thin tissue of circumstantial evidence and a sizable dose of latent anti-Semitism, police soon charge Noah with the crime. Saving Noah’s neck becomes attorney Seth Adler’s consuming mission.
Members of the Tribe is, on one level, the terrifying story of a murder trial in which a community’s outrage overwhelms its allegiance to due process of law as a governing moral tenet. But the courtroom is only the staging ground – and the trial the climactic encounter – in the moving ordeal that has been Seth Adler’s life as a stranger in his adopted homeland.
His adventures, interwoven with America’s social, political, and economic life at its most tumultuous, are sustained by a conviction that what the Jews of this nation share in spirit with their countrymen matters far more than what separates them. Yet the question abides, as this powerful and memorable novel closes, whether even America possesses the moral stamina not to seek and destroy scapegoats when a dark hour arrives.
Much of the novel is based on actual events.
©2017 Richard Kluger