Cover image for Pinto and sons
Pinto and sons
Epstein, Leslie.
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Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., 1990.
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Pinto and Sons is an ironic black comedy that follows Pinto, a Hungarian Jew and former medical student, who takes the wrong ship and winds up out West during the craze of the California Gold Rush. Never discouraged, he tries to bring scientific enlightenment to a band of boys from the local Modoc Indian tribe. But strikes and explosions erupt at the nearby gold mine where the Modocs have been enslaved, turning his attempt at utopia into Dante's hell.

Author Notes

Leslie Epstein has written eight books of fiction and won an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Distinguished Achievement in Literature for his creation of Leib Goldkorn.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

The eponymous protagonist of Epstein's ( King of the Jews ) nightmarishly imaginative new novel is an Hungarian-Jewish immigrant to Boston in 1845, where he for a short time attends Harvard Medical College, until an ill-fated experiment cuts short his career. His ``sons'' are a ragged band of Modoc Indians whom he encounters when he joins the California gold rush, opening a general store in the town of Yreka. The Modocs have been pitilessly exploited by a mine owner--one of Adolph Pinto's classmates at Harvard--and Pinto becomes mentor to the youngsters of the tribe, instructing them via his only textbook: a volume of Robert Burns's collected poems. That the Native American ``savages'' begin speaking in a broad Scots brogue is only one of the many ironies in this darkly comic picaresque saga. Pinto is an eternal optimist who keeps coming up with ideas to benefit the human race--only to have them boomerang with tragic consequences. His naive belief that scientific progress will create paradise on earth inevitably involves him in a series of cataclysmic events, which Epstein conveys in searing scenes of apocalyptic horror and cinematic intensity. (Some are based on fact: viz., the unspeakably brutal conditions inside the Neptune Mine, which led to the Modoc rebellion of 1860.) On the other hand, some readers will not be engaged by passages invoking the laws of physics and higher mathematics by which the supremely rational but deludedly quixotic Pinto arrives at his scientific discoveries. At the end of this action-filled, helterskelter tale, Epstein leaves his hero bereft of his ``sons'' yet still confident of the eventual perfectibility of the human race. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Epstein's first novel since his widely acclaimed King of the Jews ( LJ 2/15/79) resembles that book in its blend of historical fact and inventive exuberance, of tragedy and farce. Yet here the backdrop is the California Gold Rush and a pioneer town named Yreka, home of the vast Neptune Mine, rather than the grimmer setting of the Holocaust. Life without pain: that is the dream of young Pinto, a precocious Harvard medical student forced to abandon his training after a disastrous experiment with anaesthesia. He finds his way West, ending up a forty-niner (and teacher/doctor/scientist/researcher/inventor) among the Modoc Indians, where subsequent debacles revolve around his quest for a rabies vaccine and his design of a ``gun machine'' for use by his ``Pioneers of Progress.'' After each catastrophe Pinto invariably rebounds, as Epstein simultaneously spoofs and celebrates the tension between progressive idealism and life's underlying darkness. A captivating tragicomic epic (accent on the comic), with many deeply felt, genuinely moving scenes.-- Elise Chase, Forbes Lib., Northampton, Mass. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Epstein's sixth work of fiction is a powerful novel of quixotic adventure. Beginning in 1846, it relates the story of the hapless but intensely ethical Adolph Pinto, a European Jewish medical student at Harvard who pursues a picaresque quest for scientific truth and life's meaning. Dismissed from Harvard for an ill-fated surgical experiment, Pinto travels to California during the gold rush, becomes a miner, peddler, then tutor to the Modoc Indians, whose youths become his "sons." But always, his primary role is that of physician: both healer and scientist, attempting constantly to preserve life and to unlock the mysteries of anesthesia and of a cure for rabies. Pinto's experiences are at once bizarre and convincingly rooted in a framework of historical fact. Throughout, he remains self-effacing, courageous, and stoical in the acceptance of his many misfortunes and losses. Despite the carnage of its most graphic scenes and the essential tragedy of its conclusion, this is ultimately an uplifting novel; and its protagonist is an avatar of the human spirit at its best. Highly recommended. -B. H. Leeds, Central Connecticut State University