As the World War II cultural and industrial boom birthed a new California, a mighty steel industry rose with the potential to make modest dreams real for the workers willing to risk their lives in the mill's ferocious heat.
For the Salcidos, the Nazareth mill became an engine for survival. Luis J. Rodriguez chronicles the simultaneous evolutions of this American family and the enormous enterprise that drove them from optimistic and cohesive units questing for stability and prosperity to disintegrating entities whose dreams have long since lost their luster.
Spanning six decades, the novel conveys the drama, resilience, and humor of working-class life during a little-known era in American history.
Rodriguez chronicled his youthful days in an L.A. gang in his 1993 memoir, Always Running, and while his latest novel ends with a cautionary portrait of a gang soldier locked away for life, it focuses on diverse characters living, loving and just trying to get by in the L.A. barrios over a period of 60 years. Within the multigenerational saga of the Salcido family and its deep ties to the Nazareth Steel Mill, Rodriguez's main character is 20-year-old Johnny, a second-generation mill worker who tries to fight the abusive powers-that-be inside the operation's corporate and union hierarchies. The novel hums with intensity as Rodriguez passionately dramatizes the battle the mill's minority workers wage against the often-violent, KKK-aligned white mill workers in the 1970s. Rodriguez also does a wonderful job describing the cacophonous, overheated, smoke-filled plant: "From the parking lot, Johnny sniffs the sulfur and limestone smells, the iron and coal dust, and he realizes what a powerfully sensual world the mill is." Positive, uplifting messages woven into many scenes can make the book feel didactic, however. Rodriguez's heart is in the right place, but his ambitious, engrossing novel would have been more melodious had he taken a more subtle approach to the book's politically and socially progressive agenda. Agent, Susan Bergholz. 6-city author tour. (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.