John Jakes, author of The Kent Family Chronicles and The North and South Trilogy, began a new cycle of historical novels with the best-selling Homeland, “to tell what happened” in America, and the world, during the last one hundred years. Now, for all those readers who followed the stories of Pauli Kroner, Herschel Wolinski, Joe and Ilsa Crown and their children Fritzi, Carl, and Joe Junior and who have since bombarded the novelist with requests to tell what happened next Jakes has completed the long-awaited second novel of the Crown family dynasty. American Dreams is aptly named. Against a panoramic view of American life and culture in transition between 1905-1917, it continues, in vivid detail, the stories of three dreamers previously introduced in Homeland: Fritzi, her younger brother, Carl, and their cousin, Paul. For each one of these protagonists, the American dream is tinged with the same Apollo-like promise a bittersweet blend of happiness and loss. Fritzi achieves the public acclaim she has longed for, but only at the cost of abandoning her dream of a stage career and becoming engulfed in the burgeoning motion picture industry.
Carl, fascinated with machines, pursues a turbulent, out-of-control course that brings him into conflict with Henry Ford in Detroit. He plunges into the maelstrom of the racing circuit with speed king Barney Oldfield and is eventually sent skyward, first as a pilot for a flying circus, then as a mercenary for the Mexican Federalists, and, finally, as a fighter pilot in war-torn Europe.
Paul, the acclaimed author of I Witness History, a book about his experiences as a newsreel filmmaker, loses his job when he defies British law by making public his footage of atrocities committed by the German army. Toward the end of the novel, back in Europe to obtain more war footage, Paul, in a moment of supreme despair, senses that the deaths he is recording are a harbinger of the end of an era that the nightmare of war has “enveloped Europe's golden summers of peace and confidence, turning them to winters of despair and ruin.” But in the midst of this darkness, the novel like America, and like the giddy century which the world is still experiencing rises above despair. The real American dream, perhaps, is emblemized in the rhapsody of hope spoken by music maestro Harry Poland (once known as the immigrant Herschel Wolinski) about Bartholdi's Statue of Liberty: “She says so much, that great lady. She says, ÔWelcome, whoever you are. You needn't be rich, or renowned, there is a place for you anyway.' To me especially, she says, ÔThis is the land where you can realize your wildest dream if you work hard. So go forward, for that's where the future lies . . . ahead of you. You will never find it by going back.'” Reviewed by Robert C. Jones.