Friday, October 11, 2013

Book Review: Gentleman Bootlegger - The Story of Frank GATT Paperback by Jewelli Delay and Robert Robinson

I was contacted by the publisher Inkwater Press about reviewing this book. I have been to Seattle, WA a couple of times for conferences, but never really lived in that region. For some reason though, the Pacific Northwest has always appealed to me because people seem relaxed and enjoy life, despite or maybe because of the often rainy weather they have there! I agreed to review the book because it also includes coverage of an era that has always interested me, The Age of Prohibition. During the Prohibition a lot of people got very rich very fast, not always legal of course. But nevertheless, Prohibition was a uniquely American experience and maybe because of that, the times have always interested me.

So who was the Gentleman Bootlegger? Frank Gatt was the Great Grandfather of the author and he was a character. I would almost describe him as larger than life. An Italian, growing up in the Italian neighborhood that is still steeped in tradition and of course he ended up marrying an Italian girl. I loved the description of how he ended uo meeting his future wife and having several Italian friends and having met their mothers, I can picture the mother worrying about the son not marrying, finding a nice girl from a known Italian family, everyone getting together over dinner and the unspoken plan being on everyone's mind. Well, it did work out for Frank and he ended up marrying someone he loved and who loved him.

But rather than settle into a nice quiet life, Frank, who had already owned a bar when he got married, decided to use the Prohibition to make money, a lot of money. He ended up being one of the most successful bootleggers in the Seattle area and of course the Feds noticed this and did their best to stop him. While Frank could outsmart them for a while, his luck ran out eventually (bis brother's luck had run out earlier).

Frank ended up serving time in the McNeil Island penitentiary and there he reinvented himself. In part, this change may have been due to wrath of his wife (did I mention she was Italian), who could not forgive him for getting arrested despite his promises to not get caught. So Frank still was able to redeem himself in the end. He ended up leading a respectable life in a second career, maybe not making quite as a much money as he was when being a bootlegger.

What made this book interesting to me besides the Prohibition angle and taking place in the US Northwest were two items. The book was written by the great granddaughter of Frank, who had carefully researched the family history. And the book is full of pictures of Frank and his family, all taken by Asahel Curtis. I always find that any book about a person can use at least a couple of pictures of the person. Sometimes the character of a person is reflected in how they look, sometimes the looks do not give any clue as to the person's character. But having a couple of pictures just brings the person closer to the reader. The pictures and having a member of the family write the book really help in bringing Frank close to the reader. I almost felt like having dinner or coffee with another person and listening to them telling a story about a relative.

Some of you may think that Frank Gatt broke the law and deserved to be punished, not written about in a book by a relative that makes Frank appear like a nice family man. I agree, Frank broke the law and he deserved to get punished for that. He did get punished because Frank Gatt served a prison sentence. But I also cannot help but be reminded of my grandfather, who lived through WWII and the aftermath in Germany. He also did not always stick to the right side of the law during the war because he did not side with the ruling Nazi Party. And even after the war, when he friends were starving, he broke the law to secure food. Sometimes people break the law because of the times. My grandfather, when times were again more stable in Germany, was a law abiding citizen that would have never thought of breaking the law, even cheating anyone at a card game or trying to gain an unfair advantage somehow. And in the description of Frank Gatt I recognize character traits of my grandfather and maybe I am more forgiving to Frank than some of you. But Frank did turn his life around and was first and foremost a devoted husband and father. So even while bootlegging, there were rules he would not break, just like you expect from a Gentleman Bootlegger.

The Gentleman Bootlegger is available on You can also purchase the book from Inkwater Press.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through the publisher Inkwater Press. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by Inkwater Press or any third party. 

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