Why this story? or “If you liked Casablanca …”

An engaging story is propelled by conflict. Without it, reading is as dull as playing poker with toy money.

The story of Kenosha is filled with high-stakes, multilayered conflict.

Consider the ultimate movie classic, Casablanca. There’s grand conflict, the Nazis versus the resistance movement. Kenosha’s epic battle pits the union against the company, also with deadly stakes. But these are merely backdrops.

Casablanca’s most engaging conflicts are personal, such as between Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), owner of Rick’s Café Américain, and Strasser, the Nazi Major. Like My Father Before Me includes Strasser’s could-be twin, a conniver named Ehrlich who has no moral boundaries.

Remember the classic movie scene: lights out in the café, Rick hunched over a whiskey glass, eyes moist. He’s at war with his past, and at war with himself. In Like My Father Before Me, you’ll understand the parallel once you learn the reason for Jerry Jamison’s mirthless smiles.

Another fascinating parallel is the agony and risk of choosing sides. In Casablanca, the Vichy Captain Louis Renault allies with the Nazis, but appearances deceive. Compare this to the tumultuous world of labor unions. In the event of a wildcat strike – a renegade act that defies the national union – workers must guess which side will win. Then they place their bets, knowing all could be lost, and not just their jobs, but their reason for living.

Casablanca is a romantic drama. “She paints his face with her eyes,” wrote a movie critic of Ingrid Bergman’s performance as Rick Blaine’s ex-lover. The parallel? While Anna, Chris’s comrade, would never collapse weak-kneed into anyone’s arms, she would stand shoulder-to-shoulder and even hand-in-hand with someone she believed in.

Which brings us at last to Chris Jamison, the novel’s protagonist. Their ages may be thirty years apart, but Chris and Rick Blaine are similarly unexpected heroes. Like Rick, who famously said, “I stick my neck out for nobody,” Chris is dragged kicking and screaming into the fray. Also like Rick, Chris must choose a side and, when those he loves are threatened, he must act.

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