“Fortune favours the brave”

I remember reading this book just as I entered High School about 20 odd years ago and I can say upon re-reading it that it has aged well in some aspects and it’s still a very entertaining read.

The story follows (much like First Among Equals and The Fourth Estate and As the crow flies) two men locked in a battle of wits spanning across multiple decades.
One is William Lowell Kane, the son of a Boston Millionaire, the other is Abel Rosnovski, a penniless Polish immigrant who becomes the head of The Baron Group and multi-millionaire by the time he’s 50.

The Story

Originally published in 1979, it is one of the best books I have ever read. It has drama, suspense, romance, and enough plot twists to keep the most savvy reader breathlessly reading until the heart-wrenching conclusion.

William Kane and Abel Rosnovski both enter the world in 1906. One is born to a wealthy, socially prominent Boston family. The other is born in poverty in Poland to an unwed woman who dies during childbirth.

They each have a remarkable life story that makes for spellbinding reading until the finale in 1963.

kane-abel.jpgAbel is rescued from the woods beside the body of his dead mother by a hunter and taken into a poor peasant family where he is nursed along the other 6 children. Only when he visits the hut years on with his daughter does Abel wonder – “Was it really possible to fit 9 people in this small place”.
Then the first war starts and Poland is occupied by the Russians. He witnesses his sister’s rape by 16 men (warning for the faint of soul as the descriptions are pretty vivid) and subsequent death, the death of the baron who took him in and gave him an education and his transportation to a Russian concentration camp. I think Vladik’s story (Abel’s name) is the best of the two – showing real struggles and drama that would make a grown man collapse.
He escapes a Russian concentration camp with the help of the doctor and with his 50 Rubles and a bear coat, he makes his way to Turkey where he nearly gets his hand chopped off for stealing food.

Vladek’s manages with the help of the English consulate to escape and he sets sail for America with nothing more than the scantest of birthrights, a bracelet belonging to the dead Baron through the inscriptions of which the american Immigration official incorrectly documents him as Baron Abel Rosnovski.

“I was born near Slonim. I saw my home taken over by the Germans, my sister raped by the Russians and later I escaped from a Russian labour camp and was lucky enough to reach America. I’m not mad. This is the only country in the world where you can arrive with nothing and become a millionaire though damned hard work regardless of your background.”

We see through his eyes how life for a poor Polish immigrant would have been like – no relatives, no job prospects other than a bakery used by many others in name, no place to stay. He makes some friends on the boat that took him there and later marries his first love.

Meanwhile, young William Kane is growing up in the lap of luxury, attending the finest schools, and winning every honor his father before him achieved. He goes to Harvard, does mathematics like a pro and goes into banking following in his deceased father’s footsteps. He’s young and willing and extremely talented. He marries a widow after the 1929 crash and has two lovely daughters and a boy named Richard.
Abel marries his Polish girlfriend and after she has a daughter whom he names Florentina after his dead sister, he decides to devote his entire life to her. He divorces his wife after a string of affairs and leaves her well off in a house in the city.

You will be fascinated by Archer’s storytelling and the vivid characters he portrays. You will root for Abel and take him to your heart. You will be fascinated with William and wish only the best for him. Unfortunately, when the two characters cross paths as young men, a fierce hatred erupts and they become life-long enemies, as Abel swears to destroy William Kane.The author has made each of his main characters so endearing that the reader is torn and loyalties falter.
Do you root for Abel?
Do you root for William?

Dare you hope they will work this out? Whatever you are thinking, you will be surprised. This is not one of those novels where you will see the ending coming, but you will be stunned, sad, and uplifted as a gamut of emotions play with your mind and heart.I finished this late last night and have been thinking about Abel and William all day.

I can hardly wait to start on the sequel, “The Prodigal Daughter”.

Best Bits:

  • Abel has three nipples (I know!)
  • The audiobook version has all the accents done to perfection
  • I liked the calm and composed William Kane opposed to the turbulent personality of Abel
  • Biblical reference in the title
  • Hotel business and background businesses were well described. I liked how Abel managed to find the corrupted managers and fire off half the staff from the Chicago Richmond by playing dumb. “Only three things mattered about a hotel: position, position and position.”
  • You can see how the environment shapes people and having a good start in life is essential. William Kane was educated and pushed by both his grandmothers and his mother to do well in school. Abel liked to read and under the Baron’s tutelage he learned 4 foreign languages which proved so useful in his future – literally saving his hand.

Bad Bits:

  • You would tell that a sleazebag like Henry Osbourne would end up blackmailing the people he worked with – why would Abel keep him on? I understand he had business reasons to line the pockets of the higher-ups he worked with but he could have used someone else
  • I think that Abel sleeping with Melanie just for revenge was a bad choice – especially since he was planning on marrying soon. He liked the admiration he got from his un-ambitious Polish girlfriend but on the long term haul, Melanie would have proven better for him – classy and educated and a hottie!
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