•In his most spectacular work of fiction to date, filmmaker Sayles combines wonder and outrage in a vigorous dramatization of overlooked and downright shameful aspects of turn-of-the-nineteenth-century America. Fascinated by the roiling nation’s multicultural spectrum and human impulses corrupt and altruistic, Sayles recreates the ferment and conflicts of the Yukon gold rush, hobo life, New York’s sweatshops, the race riot and white supremacist coup in Wilmington, North Carolina, and the covered-up horrors of the Philippine American War (the focus of Sayles’s forthcoming film, AMIGO). Real-life figures appear, including President McKinley and his assassin and anti-imperialist Mark Twain, but it is Sayles’ vital invented characters who rule, from sweet, hapless Hod, who survives the brutality of mines, the boxing ring, jail, and the military without losing his faith in romance, to his wry Native American road buddy, Big Ten; the Luncefords, a cultured African American family that suffers an appalling reversal of fortune; Mei, a Chinese woman forced into prostitution; and Diosdado, a young Filipino rebel. Crackling with rare historical details, spiked with caustic humor, and fueled by incandescent wrath over racism, sexism, and serial injustice against working people, Sayles’ hard-driving yet penetrating and compassionate saga explicates the “fever dream” of commerce, the crimes of war, and the dream of redemption.
— Donna Seaman
Book List 4/15/11