The sixth and final volume of The Immigrants, Howard Fast's century-long saga of a California family, confronts his nearly 70-year-old heroine, the dignified Barbara Lavette, with daunting new challenges. Twice married, this plucky writer and doyenne of a wine-making clan must now adjust to the sudden death of her longtime lover and her recent marriage to a saintly Unitarian minister. On their honeymoon in Israel, the newlyweds narrowly escape a terrorist bomb; back in San Francisco, Barbara's home is broken into by a jewel thief, and her nephew's fiancée is badly injured in a taxicab accident. By the novel's end, all these tests of Barbara's mettle have been mere preparation for an even greater trial.
An Independent Woman is eventful and well-crafted, enlivened by a large and diverse cast of characters and a keen understanding of the dynamics of a complex, extended family. Loyal fans of Fast's opus will welcome this bittersweet reunion with a woman they have come to know and admire. (Harcourt Brace, $25)