This is a fantastic historical fiction that beautifully tells us so much about the social history of Detroit from 1915 until the early 1930s. These were years in which the City was growing to be the combustion engine of the United States of America and then laboured through the hard years of the the 1920s, to only grow stronger.
We see the development of this great city through the eyes of one particular Polish immigrant family in a new world of immigrants. In particular, we watch the streets through the life of Joe Jopolowski, boy and man. I don't know how far the real goes, but I do know that Scheffler is digging deep into her family memoirs and those of many others of the generations that lived through the Spanish Influenza Epidemic, the call to arms in Europe, the rapid growth of the car industry, prohibition and the Great Depression.
We are drawn deep into a community of beautifully developed characters, all based on the melange of conversations the author had with those that lived those years. For those that herald from, live in, or have been visitors to Motor City, this book should be on one's reading lists. For those that have never been there, such as I, the book is so well written that you will think you have.
This book is one of waves, just like life, slow and fast, high and low. There is plenty of drama, passion and excitement, but also rich hunks of the everyday: cooking cabbage, the trot of horses, the smell of sugar, whiskey, church, outhouse, and hot car exhausts in freezing winter air, the paraphernalia of home, and the construction sites of a rapidly expanding city. So much of life is touched, from the pains of childbirth to the blood and guns of Gangs, from the Catholic Church to the Blind Pigs, from the shoeless walk to school to the glitz of visiting Hollywood stars.
So what is there to be critical about? I'm sure I passed over a few imperfections of grammar, a few redundant sentences, a few over hammered details, but quite frankly all I can be bothered to mention is that the end came far too quickly. For a few hours I was an observer of early 20th century Detroit and hardly aware of passing words. Perhaps I'm too easily entertained, I hope not. I suggest that you decide that for yourself. This is a literary read rather than a pot-boiling entertainment, though that doesn't mean that the 'The Sugar House' lacks for punch. Not a bit of it!