four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
23-July-Aug-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-TheLightningKeeperIn this sequel to Montenegro (1997), Harriet Bigelow, the young heiress to an ironworks dynasty, again crosses paths with Toma Pekocevic, who has fled the Balkans, in pre–World War I New York. Love ignites as Toma vows to help Harriet save her father’s company from financial disaster. Inspired by Nikola Tesla’s theories regarding electric power, Toma builds an innovative water turbine that can produce a new source of electricity. Soon growing industrial giant General Electric becomes interested in Toma’s invention, with the idea of blanketing every home in America with electricity. But as World War I intervenes, conflicting loyalties to people, companies, and even countries threaten Harriet’s and Toma’s love.
HarperCollins. 414 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0060825243

Baltimore Sun 4 of 5 Stars
"Beautifully written and richly detailed, Lawrence’s story brings to life a colorful period in American history and provides a timely reminder that every generation expects too much from its modern marvels." Michael Shelden

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"It is clear that a huge amount of research went into the writing of this book. … There are passages, as well, of extraordinary beauty, as when Harriet and Thomas steal away to ice skate together.’" Kathleen Cambor

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Lawrence … has written a subtle and moving novel, an old-fashioned narrative that addresses modern questions of ethnicity and belonging. … In the ease with which it glides between the drawing room and the factory, The Lightning Keeper recalls the work of an editor-novelist of a century ago, William Dean Howells, except with a lot more sex." Mark Essig

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"The Lightning Keeper is a big, old-fashioned panoramic feast of a novel, the likes of which aren’t produced much anymore. … Naturally, in this handsome book, filled with photographs and historic figures, there is an enduring love story predicated on patience that no obstacle can extinguish." Karen Heller

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"We are given a window into the conniving nature of men in power, where brilliance is a valued commodity, but results, no matter how obtained, are gold. … Lawrence’s descriptive gifts are such that the history and science of electrical energy and turn-of-the-century manufacturing are given the power and fascination they must have held for people of that time." Bruce Murkoff

Critical Summary

Starling Lawrence, editor in chief of W. W. Norton, has written a sprawling, old-fashioned novel with lessons for us all about the "miracles" of technology, personal progress, competition, and happiness. It is also about love, an inventor’s mind, the battle between small businesses and corporations, and the electrification of America. Gorgeous language, rich period details, and an elegant plot impressed critics; clearly, Lawrence did his research, even if he offers up some dense passages. Photographs and the inclusion of historic figures round out the compelling story. In sum, The Lightning Keeper "draws us in and allows us to live briefly, magically, marvelously in the world as it once was" (Chicago Tribune).

What Came Before

Montenegro (1997): It’s 1908, and the Balkans are on the brink of war. Englishman Auberon Harwell is sent to Montenegro on behalf of Lord Polgrove to look for opportunities in the coming chaos. Harwell settles in with Serbian ex-freedom fighter Danilo Pekocevic and his family and is soon caught up in matters political and personal.