Hey y’all, I’m back from my paper-induced hiatus, and I thought I’d celebrate by doing a giveaway of Mr. Rosenblum’s List. All you have to do to win my (used, that is crinkly spine) paperback copy of Mr. Rosenblum’s List is
1.) leave a comment that you’d like to enter the giveaway,
2.) let me know your email address and
3.) tell me what you think should go on the list of the aspiring Englishman.
You have till midnight September 11 to enter the giveaway, and I’ll announce the winner on September 13. This giveaway is open worldwide!
Jack Rosenblum is five foot three and a half inches of sheer tenacity. Through study and application he intends to become a Very English Gentleman. Jack is compiling a list, a comprehensive guide to the manners, customs and habits of this country. He knows that marmalade must be bought from Fortnum & Mason, he’s memorised the entire British monarchy back to 913 A.D and the highlight of his day is the BBC weather forecast. And he never speaks German, apart from the occasional curse. From the moment he disembarked at Harwich in 1937 he understood that assimilation was the key. But the war’s been over for eight years and despite his best efforts, his bid to blend in remains fraught with unexpected hurdles. Including his wife. Sadie finds his obsession baffling. She doesn’t want to forget who they are or where they come from. She’d rather bake cakes to remember the people they left behind than worry about how to play bridge. But Jack is convinced they can find a place to call home. In a final attempt to complete his list, he leads a reluctant Sadie into the English countryside. Here, in a land of woolly pigs, bluebells and jitterbug cider, they embark on an impossible task… (amazon)
I’ve never really been on the best of terms with blurbs, but I think the ones on this book have cured me from believing them at all. The Times calls Mr. Rosenblum’s List “hilarious”, and another paper refers to it as “very funny”. It’s an enjoyable book, but it’s still quite sad. And how can a story about exile really be hilarious, except maybe for those who observe (and make fun of) any attempts at integration.
Jack Rosenblum, his wife Sadie and their daughter emigrate from Germany in 1937, and the moment they arrive in England, Jack is handed a list with advice for Jewish refugees. This guidance tells Jack that speaking halting English is much better than speaking German, that he should not express any political views or join an organisation, that he should immediately imitate the English way of dressing (“bland is best”), their manners and customs. In other words, completely cast of his German Jewish origins. Jack (and his name is the first thing to change) decides that assimilation is the key to his family’s happiness and meticulously works his way down the list. However, assimilation proves much more difficult than he imagined, and Jack notes down more items. He becomes obsessed with the list and his dream of becoming an English gentleman. In his tenaciously optimistic way, Jack believes that all failure at assimilation is his fault, and that by observing the English closely, he will become English. Of course, being five foot three and a half inches, having a schnoz and a German accent, blending in is nearly impossible. Again and again, Jack comes up against the English bias towards foreigners (and in those days especially Krauts), their class system and anti-semitism. That Jack continues to work hard at becoming English in the face of this prejudice is all the more painful and tragic because he remains so optimistic.
While Jack attempts complete assimilation, his wife Sadie clings to her own culture. Leaving Germany, the Rosenblums had to leave behind Sadie’s parents and her brother to die. While Jack steadfastly refuses to look back, Sadie cannot let go of her past. She tries to keep Jewish traditions alive, especially by baking from her mother’s cooking book. With those two very different attitudes toward assimilation, Jack and Sadie drift apart. Sadie is horrified that Jack rejects his origins, and Jack is ashamed of his German Jewish wife and tries to force her to assimilate. For example, he only speaks English, even with his wife. And when Jack is refused membership in any of the great English golfclubs, he takes his wife out of London and away to the country, without asking her. In Dorset, the ‘Rose-in-blooms’ have to assimilate to country life, woolly pigs, and jitterbug cider. And by building his own golf course, Jack makes a final attempt at becoming completely English.
Natasha Solomon’s has written a lovely book that combines exile literature with the genre of eccentric but warm-hearted English country life. This is why this novel is both sad and cosy, a comfort read but with serious underlying issues, which you can ponder over if you’re in the mood. I really enjoyed Mr. Rosenblum’s List, even though I find exile, diaspora and assimilation very painful to read. But Solomon’s tone makes you think that just maybe things are going to work out for the Rosenblums. And her German didn’t even make me wince! 🙂
So if you’d like a copy of Mr. Rosenblum’s List, remember to enter the giveaway!
Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!