Front cover of a 1977 first edition of The Immigrants.

The Immigrants is the first of six related novels by Howard Fast.


The novel is a "family saga". That is, it describes several families and their passing through time, in San Francisco. The novel is part of a trilogy featuring the same families. This work begins with the Lavette family, a French-Italian couple who move to the USA and have a son. Mr. Lavette is a fisherman and teaches that job to his son, Daniel, from childhood. But disaster strikes. An earthquake shakes the city, the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Daniel's parents die in a fire after that. He works for three consecutive days and gives the money to a friend of his father, Cassala, as a deposit. That is the beginning of the Bank of Sonoma and the beginning of the rise of Daniel to become a multimillionaire.

The friendship between Cassala and Lavette continues through time; they start many business together and Lavette takes loans from him. Lavette founds a company along with a Jewish friend, Levy, and they begin selling clothes and acquiring a fleet; Daniel wants to be faithful to his fisherman/seaman roots. After some time, they even buy a big ship, with money lent by Cassala. Danny meets Thomas Seldon, one of the richest men in San Francisco, who owns a bank. He meets Seldon's daughter too, Jean, during a meeting at the Seldon's residence, and immediately falls for her. After that, he decides he will live in Nob Hill and will make her his wife; his overwhelming desire for her and for powers begins to take shape. He succeeds but after some time, their mutual love is lost, Jean rejects him and she decides that both of them must sleep in different bedrooms. After some time, Daniel falls in love with the daughter of his employee, a Chinese girl called May Ling.

Review by David

The novel is very good as a historical family saga. It is very interesting from the very beginning and the psychology of the characters could be compared with Tolstoy, for instance. It is noticed that the author did a lot of research on the San Francisco earthquake and the Depression era. The characters are very realistic and the overwhelming and powerful personality of Daniel Lavette is pretty well described. Jean's character is also well developed, she acts as is expected from her; that is why some critics have said the story has clichés. This novel is the first one in six novels using the same families, the next ones focus on Barbara Lavette, Daniel's daughter. Besides being a family story, it is also a love story, we find the, at first seemingly impossible, love between Daniel and May Ling. And below that there is the loneliness and unhappiness Daniel feels all the time; it is as though that kind of living is not his. He always feel alienated when he is not next to May Ling. In conclusion: the novel is very well developed, with a well formed historical background and psychological depth.

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