Frank S. Joseph's debut novel TO LOVE MERCY confronts race and ethnicity in segregated Chicago in the late 1940s. The book follows two boys -- one black, one white -- lost in the city together and exploring with innocent enthusiasm while their families tear each other apart in fear. Racial tensions thread through the novel and personal choices are made with a shattering clarity against the pressures of the city.
Includes a historical Afterword on Bronzeville, "Chicago's Harlem," in the voices of a dozen people who lived there in the '30s, '40s and '50s.
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A Nostalgic Look at Racist Chicago
In the 1960s Frank Joseph covered the Chicago ghetto riots, events that were personal for him. Watching his grandfather struggle as a Jewish businessman in a segregated black neighborhood, Joseph grew up deeply aware of the divisiveness of race. When he left Chicago in the 1970s to become an editor at The Washington Post, Joseph could not leave his childhood behind. "There wasn’t a day for thirty-five years that I didn’t think about writing this book," he says.
With TO LOVE MERCY [A Mid Atlantic Highlands Paperback Original, $14.95, 290 pages, ISBN: 0-9744785-3-9], Joseph finally returns to Chicago. Told in the unflinching style of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, TO LOVE MERCY evokes nostalgia for a difficult time.
"Sometimes Grandpa talks those words, I don’t know them, but they’re bad words or maybe not bad but you’ve got to say them in Yiddish not English. I don’t know if that makes them bad. But it might. I heard Grandpa say one of them before. Not the other. I never heard the other. They probably both mean the same. I think I know what the one means. Shvartze. Negroes? He says Yeah Negroes except he says it like knee-grows. What do they teach you in school anyway?"
The worlds of a black family and a Jewish family unexpectedly collide in 1948 Chicago after a bizarre accident leaves a black boy injured. Sass Trimble, the black boy from Bronzeville, "Chicago's Harlem," and Steve Feinberg, a Jewish boy from well-to-do Hyde Park, get on a bus together and get lost in the city. Once free from the neighborhoods that have defined them, the boys explore the city together with enthusiasm, while their families tear each other apart in fear.
Steve and Sass spend a day and a night getting more and more lost, and along the way they also lose their inclination to go home. Old Chicago is a place where nuns patrol the silent hallways of Mercy Hospital, giant crosses swinging from their necks … milk has cream at the top … radios need 30 seconds to warm up … and kids’ fare is a dime. The old Hamm's Beer commercial and the voices of Happy Hank and Friendly Bob Adams are pleasant background noises. At last the boys discover Riverview -– then "The world’s largest amusement park," today only a memory -- where racism catches up to them in the cruelest possible way.About the Author:
Frank S. Joseph cut his teeth as a writer at the famous training-ground City News Bureau of Chicago. He worked at The Associated Press covering the Democratic National Convention street disorders, the Detroit riot, Dr. Martin Luther King's march into Cicero, Illinois, and almost every ghetto uprising and incident of urban violence that defined the turbulent mid-'60s in Chicago. Joseph was an editor with The Washington Post during the Watergate years and, in 1982, he founded Key Communications Group Inc., a specialized-information publishing company. He and his wife, Carol Jason, a sculptor and artist, met in Chicago and now live in Chevy Chase, Maryland. They are the parents of Shawn and Sam.
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