Bill E. Clarkson’s first full length novel, Shabaikai, is a riveting page turner. Shabaikai gets its title from the river, Shabaikai, that runs along the Bohemian Grove. It is at the historical Bohemian Men’s Club that the story all ties together. Just as the river has unexpected twists and turns, so does Clarkson’s novel.
The story begins in the teen years of two very different people; Guido, an Italian immigrant, and Jesse, a well off young man born into a wealthy Californian family. Shabaikai takes readers on a journey through both of the young men’s lives. Clarkson masterfully leads readers through the men’s stories with alternating chapters. This is effective because readers see the contrasts and similarities between the two men’s experiences more clearly.
While Jesse and Guido never meet, their children do and quickly build a family of their own together. Anna, Jesse’s daughter, and Joseph, Guido’s son, make a happy and successful home until tragedy strikes. As a result of this horrible tragedy, Jesse takes his grandchild, Joseph and Anna’s son. He raises his grandson and feeds him nothing but lies while Joseph tries to get his family back on their feet. Joseph later finds out about all the lies his son has been taught but isn’t allowed to be reunited with him. Joseph’s life takes even more unexpected turns as he reunites with Guido.
Shabaikai is a historical drama that will keep you enthralled until the very last page. Clarkson gives readers a glimpse of what early 20th century America was like including the violence and organized crime that came with prohibition. Clarkson does a great job representing each social class and how they were affected by prohibition, the creation of the auto industry, and crime.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and learning about the history of Northern California along the way. I found this book to be quite inspirational as characters work their way up the social ladder. Shabaikai is also an intense drama that kept me interested and wanting more. Not only do I suggest reading Clarkson’s novel, Shabaikai, I also suggest putting time aside to read it because you won’t be able to put it down.