September 14, 1981 12:00 PM

by Silvia Tennenbaum

Tennenbaum, the wife of a nonpracticing rabbi, created a stir a couple of years ago when some Conservative Jews accused her of anti-Semitism in her first novel, Rachel, the Rabbi’s Wife. This massive saga about a family headed by a Jewish wool merchant in Frankfurt from 1903 to 1945 won’t elicit similar complaints. Tennenbaum sympathetically chronicles the lives of the family’s five sons, including a black sheep banished to America, but the book really is about their mother, wives and daughters. One young girl flings herself at an unsuitable Prussian officer. The other women find solid marriages, tragic loves and some men unable to love at all. Magnificent houses, gentile servants, dresses, costume parties and the era’s art are described in loving detail, but the specter of Nazi Germany shadows these opulent lives. Those who do escape the Holocaust give the novel a final ironic twist. Readers who made Belva Plain’s Evergreen a best-seller will like Yesterday’s Streets—only more so. (Random House, $15.95)

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