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Acclaimed author Mary Morris returns to her Chicago roots in this sweeping novel that brilliantly captures the dynamic atmosphere and the dazzling music of the Jazz Age.
In the midst of boomtown Chicago, two Jewish families have suffered terrible blows. The Lehrmans, who run a small hat factory, lost their beloved son Harold in a blizzard. The Chimbrovas, who run a saloon, lost three of their boys on the SS Eastland when it sank in 1915. Each family holds out hope that one of their remaining children will rise to carry on the family business. But Benny Lehrman has no interest in making hats. His true passion is piano—especially jazz.
At night he sneaks down to the South Side, slipping into predominantly black clubs to hear jazz groups play. One night he is called out and asked to “sit in” on a group. His playing is first-rate, and the other musicians are impressed. One of them, the trumpeter, a black man named Napoleon, becomes Benny’s close friend and musical collaborator, and their adventures together take Benny far from the life he knew as a delivery boy. Pearl Chimbrova recognizes their talent and invites them to start playing at her family’s saloon, which Napoleon dubs “The Jazz Palace.”
But Napoleon’s main gig is at a mob establishment, which doesn’t take too kindly to freelancing. And as the ’20s come to a close and the bubble of prosperity collapses, Benny, Napoleon, and Pearl must all make hard choices between financial survival and the music they love.
“Through the eyes of immigrants and gangsters, blacks and whites, the dreamers and those who have lost themselves, Morris sings us the story of Chicago at the start of the 20th century, underscored by the rise of jazz. There is a reason I have always called Mary Morris my writing mentor: she taught me everything I know; and here is the living proof.” —Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of The Storyteller and Leaving Time
“As The Jazz Palace moves cinematically from tenements to saloons to speakeasies, Mary Morris weaves true events into the fabric of her riveting story of three people linked by tragedy and catapulted into a world beyond their wildest imaginings. As her tale unfolds, we know that we are in the hands of a master.”
—Christina Baker Kline, # 1 New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan Train
“In this incandescent tour-de-force, Mary Morris takes us on a riveting journey that soars and tugs on our heartstrings just as if it were music itself.”
—Dani Shapiro, author of Family History and Still Writing
“In The Jazz Palace, Mary Morris has written an exquisite love letter to her home town, Chicago. And yet the book transcends time and place. This is history in real time, and the novel is packed with so much love, heartbreak, endurance—and yet is remarkably compressed. Benny, the jazz piano player, is a character you’ll root for and remember.” —Peter Orner, author of Love and Shame and Love
“The Jazz Palace is a sweeping tribute, a jazz ode, by a wonderful writer to her native city.” —Valerie Martin, author of Property and The Ghost of the Mary Celeste