A fictionalized historical novel based on true events, The Good Neighbors takes place in the late 1920's. Driven from their life as Oklahoma sharecroppers, the Dacias, a Romanian immigrant family, embarks on a team-and-wagon journey across the Great Plains in search of a new life and a farm of their own. They settle in South Dakota, only to have their dreams and lives threatened by Chicago gangsters, displaced bootleggers with plans of their own. This story is about the American dream, and how immigrants must often struggle to overcome violence, crime and bigotry.
As one large epic I found the trilogy far more interesting than I had anticipated. I often appreciate large family story arcs but rarely find them really to my liking. One element that makes this trilogy more appealing to me is that rather than spanning a century or two it takes place in the early 20th century, a period that I find more interesting than some others. It also encompasses both rural and urban settings and conflicts, as well as how the personal obstacles reflect both national and international issues and events. From the dust bowl depression through a growing European crisis, from fierce independence to the irrational bigotry we still face today. This mixture kept the story interesting even during any sections where I was less engaged.
I found The Good Neighbors to be the least favorite of the three for me but it was still enjoyable and is essential to setting the stage for the latter volumes, which suited my interests far more. Irina was very interesting. I liked the way people came together (for the most part) to help each other when trouble arose. Immigrating is never an easy decision or process and political and criminal intrigue just makes the process harder and far more dangerous. Finally, in Debts and Vengeance, the themes of resilience and community come together. Community is not always local. This seems obvious in our current social media world but in the 1930s there was also a sense of community, even if the people are almost an entire country apart in distance.
I would recommend these to any reader who enjoys immersion in an historical period and in a family's plight. While I think any one could be read as a standalone I think the reward of reading is well worth the time investment. There will be peaks and valleys, both within the narrative as well as with your engagement, but the peaks are more numerous and you will feel like you have known these people in real life by the time you finish.
Reviewed from copies made available through Goodreads First Reads.