The central figure of this novel is
a young man whose parents were executed for conspiring to steal atomic secrets
for Russia. His name is Daniel Isaacson, and as the story opens, his parents
have been dead for many years. He has had a long time to adjust to their
deaths. He has not adjusted. Out of the shambles of his childhood, he has
constructed a new life—marriage to an adoring girl who gives him a son of his
own, and a career in scholarship. It is a life that enrages him.
In the silence of the library at
Columbia University, where he is supposedly writing a PhD dissertation, Daniel
composes something quite different. It is a confession of his most intimate
relationships—with his wife, his foster parents, and his kid sister Susan,
whose own radicalism so reproaches him. It is a book of memories: riding a bus
with his parents to the ill-fated Paul Robeson concert in Peekskill; watching
the FBI take his father away; appearing with Susan at rallies protesting their
parents’ innocence; visiting his mother and father in the Death House.
It is a book of investigation:
transcribing Daniel’s interviews with people who knew his parents, or who knew
about them; and logging his strange researches and discoveries in the library
stacks. It is a book of judgments of everyone involved in the case—lawyers,
police, informers, friends, and the Isaacson family itself.
It is a book rich in characters,
from elderly grand- mothers of immigrant culture, to covert radicals of the
McCarthy era, to hippie marchers on the Pentagon. It is a book that spans the
quarter-century of American life since World War II. It is a book about the
nature of Left politics in this country—its sacrificial rites, its peculiar
cruelties, its humility, its bitterness. It is a book about some of the
beautiful and terrible feelings of childhood. It is about the nature of guilt
and innocence, and about the relations of people to nations.
It is The Book of Daniel. Download and start listening now!