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'Rebel Cinderella' review: The true tale of a fashionable Socialist

"Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical,

"Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes" is the latest historical book by Adam Hochschild. Credit: TNS/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

REBEL CINDERELLA: Rose Pastor Stokes — Sweatshop Immigrant, Aristocrat's Wife, Socialist Crusader by Adam Hochschild Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 303 pp., $30)

She may be forgotten now, but Rose Pastor Stokes was a big name in the early 1900s. Her Cinderella story filled the front pages of newspapers: Young Jewish immigrant escapes the toil of a Cleveland cigar factory for success as a journalist, then celebrity as the bride of a member of New York City's high society. She got an island as a wedding present. What other socialite uses her island as a haven for Socialist Party activists?
In "Rebel Cinderella," noted historian Adam Hochschild dusts off the story of this rags-to-riches-to-rags firebrand. Rose Pastor and Graham Stokes were an "it" couple: good looking, well-meaning, save-the-world types. They were leading socialists at a time when the Socialist Party was embraced as a remedy to the abuses of capitalist Robber Barons. Their unlikely love captured hearts and minds and audiences. Rose was a fiery speaker and fundraiser.

Gradually, Graham chafed at being the supportive husband back home. Then World War I happened. Add the Russian Revolution, and socialists and pacifists were no longer popular in a nation seized by patriotism. Rose's work on the Socialist speaking circuit got her arrested, tried and convicted under the new Espionage Act. Under strain at home and surveillance outside, she lost her following, but never her hope that the Bolsheviks would bring about the new world order that inspired her life.
Unlike his works "To End All Wars" about World War I and "Spain in Our Hearts" about the Spanish Civil War, which tell the big story through the experiences of people involved, here Hochschild focuses in one character and paints the context around her. This smaller frame doesn't match the power of the others, but is still a compelling read about a fascinating time in American history, one that bears resemblance to today.


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