Do you remember that magic moment when you first open a book and realize you’ve met what will be an old friend, one of those books you know you will think about for ages, that you will reread over and over again (if you read like that, which I do), and that stands a chance at actually changing your life? Do you get all tingly inside? Do you walk around with a goofy grin on your face? Do those feelings of new love make you glow?
Yeah, that might be a bit much, but my feelings for Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English are pretty extreme. I have met my favorite book of the year my dears and… well… I’ll try to keep the gushing to a minimum.
Jack Rosenblum, his wife Sadie and their daughter Elizabeth have fled Nazi Germany for the safety of England before World War II. Upon their arrival, they are given a pamphlet on how to fit into England’s world. Jack is a diminutive man, standing only five feet three and a half inches, but don’t let his size fool you. Inside there is the heart of a lion-hearted Englishman and Jack is determined to prove it. So he takes the list, takes it to heart, and begins to live by the list. So when Jack is arrested as a “Class B Enemy Alien” and thrown into prison, Jack’s hopes for life in England are almost crushed.
Lucky for Jack, his friend Edgar gets him declared a “Class C Alien,” which means he is no threat to the country, and he is released. Jack, feeling more exposed and threatened than ever, begins to add new items to the list. Jack’s list grows and grows, until it is well over 100 items of What it Takes to be English. He obtains all these items except one. The last item on his list is membership in an English golf club.
For Jack membership of a golf course was the rebuilding of Jerusalem, Atlantis and the perfect salt-beef sandwich all at once-but it was proving troublesome.
They wouldn’t admit him because he’s Jewish and German to boot. So he decides he will build one himself.
If you couldn’t get milk from someone else’s cow, you had to get your own. No golf course would admit him and so he must build his own.
So Jack takes Sadie and moves her to Bulbarrow Hill, the new acreage and cottage Jack build for his golf course. A Jewish business man with a thick German accent is an anomaly, to say the least, in their new village and, not surprisingly, the village folk don’t know what to think of Jack. Jack is so desperate to change, to fit in, to be safe, that he will move mountains. He wants assimilation, to “seep unnoticed into village life, like rain into the damp earth, and he did not like” the “scrutiny” of the village folk. However, he doesn’t let this deter him and he begins to work on his course alone.
Sadie doesn’t know what to think of Jack. She is stuck in the past, with the mother, father and beloved brother she had to leave behind in Germany. She cooks, day in and day out, from her Mutti’s cookbook. All the recipes she grew up with are her way of remembering; of saying I love you, to those who are dead and gone.
Once Sadie tried writing down her memories, attempting to preserve them in a nice book to pass on to her daughter but it did not work. The meaning kept disappearing in the spaces between the words, and her story was written was never quite how she remembered it. Now Sadie wondered whether it would be better for her to cook her way home to them. Perhaps she would find them in the smell of slowly simmering cholent or cinnamon rugula.
One cake in particular, a baumtorte, that Sadie bakes, takes time, patience, and love and remembrance for those gone, and was bittersweet to read about.
Sadie has so much patience for her cooking, but very little for Jack. When Jack declares that he will build the course by himself, Sadie retorts:
My mother warned me that craziness ran in your family. I should have listened but no, I was young and foolish and easily impressed by your red bicycle and your thick hair.
Isn’t that great? I hope you can tell how much I adored these two characters. I am absolutely in love with Jack. He reminds me of my grandmother’s family; small, short, and furiously stubborn. And Sadie. Oh, how I just want to scoop her up and give her a hug. Knowing that Solomons based these characters on her grandparents makes me adore them all the more. The writing is utterly charming. Solomons does an excellent job of shaping these characters, of presenting their flaws and their strengths, their humor and sadness, their complete will to survive, to thrive! It’s simply gorgeous. This book made me laugh, cry, scream in frustration for these two people, and hug myself in rapturous contentment at their successes. I feel as proud of Jack and Sadie as I’m sure Ms. Solomons does for her own grandparents.
I hope I have convinced you that reading Jack and Sadie’s story is something you want to do. The book will be out June 21st. Thank you, Reagan Arthur, for sending me this unexpected treasure.
This book is called Mr. Rosenblum’s List in England.
Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English
Author: Natasha Solomons
Category: Historical Fiction
Published by: Reagan Arthur Books
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
On Sale: June 21, 2010
This book was provided by the publisher.
Challenges: The Reagan Arthur Books Challenge.
Visit Natasha Solomons at her blog.
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