Review of Happy Land – A Lover’s Revenge: The nightclub firs that shocked a nation by OJ Modjeska
Rating *** 1/2
The date was March 25, 1990. On that day, 87, mostly young people, lost their lives in a deadly fire. The how and why of that tragedy is what this story is about.
The fire was a result of arson, started by a jilted lover. That fact is revealed early on. Having all of the answers so early on is one of the drawbacks of the book. What’s left is for the author to paint a picture of the perpetrator and his victims. The author does a commendable job in this respect, but the lack of suspense does slow things down.
Still, there are some interesting parallels to draw upon from this tragedy. The victims were primarily immigrants. The fire occurred at a social club in the Bronx of New York that catered to the immigrant community. The building where they gathered, however, lacked many safety features. A lack of windows, a lack of exits, and highly flammable construction materials all added to the tragedy.
One mystery that did surface involved the deaths of the people on the second floor. Did they die from toxic fumes, a lack of oxygen, or a flashover? The consensus was that it was a combination of all three, with oxygen asphyxiation as the primary cause.
As for the arsonist, his was a story of a life of poverty and despair. He was one of the people who came to the United States during the Mariel Boatlift from Cuba. He went from poverty in Cuba to living in New York, where education and language barriers got in the way of any upward mobility.
The subsequent investigation revealed problems with past building inspections and enforcements. One side story I found interesting is what happened when Ruddi Juliani became mayor. He turned New York into a police state. It did put an end to the illegal social clubs, but at what cost?