Review: Mr. Rosenblum’s List + Giveaway

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!

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26 thoughts on “Review: Mr. Rosenblum’s List + Giveaway

    1. It did generate quite the buzz on the blogosphere 🙂 Let me know what you think should go on the list for the aspiring Englishman! (I made the requirements bold now, no one noticed it).

  1. Since this is a worldwide offer, I hope you’ll enter me in the giveaway. (I’m from Scotland.)

    I’ve just linked to your blog when I saw from your comment on another blog that, like me, you love Golden Age cosy crime! I’ve been enjoying reading your back posts and am about to add you to my blogroll! (This is not a bribe! :o) )

    1. Hehe, of course, I’ll send anywhere the post goes. Yay for Golden Age mysteries, glad you love them too 🙂

      Remember to let me know what you think should go on the list of the aspiring Englishman!

  2. Wonderful review, Bina! Natasha Solomons looks like a talented author. I liked very much your comment on believing in blurbs. I once read a blurb which said “The best book written on any subject ever” 🙂 Can anyone sing a higher praise? And is it any wonderful if the book falls flat, if one reads such a blurb? I am glad though that Natasha Solomons’ book is wonderful, irrespective of what the blurb says.

    I didn’t know that there was anti-semitism in England in the 1930s. I thought that after England got a Jewish-origin Prime Minister in Benjamin Disraeli and with Britain propounding the Balfor declaration which resulted in the creation of Israel, anti-semitism in Britain would have been dead in the 1930s. It is disappointing to know otherwise. Sad.

      1. Thanks, Vishy! “The best book written on any subject ever” is the weirdest blurb ever, it doesn’t really say anything and could go on any book! 😀 I think the new motto should be: Never judge a book by its blurbs!

        I was quite taken aback by that too, especially since the Nazis were going for number 1 ebemy and everyone tried to be nothing like them. Anti.semitism was a reigning sentiment though,and I think people had a hard time letting go of it (even if the government was changing). Only guessing though 🙂

        And Vishy, remember to let me know what you think should go on the list for the aspiring Englishman. I tried to make the requirements more obvious now, no one saw them!

        1. Things that should go on the list of the aspiring Englishman – not showing any emotion whether one is happy or sad, having a stiff upper lip, saying ‘No’ in that typical British way, have a bowler hat and an umbrella (it rains most of the time), carry a copy of ‘The Times’ in hand, follow cricket scores through the sports pages of ‘The Times’ or use the mobile and follow the ball-by-ball commentary in the website of either ‘The Times’ or ‘Cricinfo’, keep saying that France is the only country which has not won a major war, rave about 19th century British literature, talk about ‘The Beatles’ with nostalgia, talk about the delicious nature of fish and chips and curry, don’t use the word ‘wine’ but call it ‘claret’, keep talking with fond memories about Fred Perry and Tim Henman and hope that Andy Murray wins Wimbledon some day and call Andy Murray the British hope(though he is a Scot and not English :))

          I hope that is a good list 🙂

          1. Haha, that’s a great list! 🙂 Puts me in mind of The Avengers,what with the bowler hat and umbrella!

            I should note evryone’s suggestions down and learn them before I go to England again 😉

  3. Soooooooooooo.. glad to have you back! Please enter me on the giveaway.

    What I think should go on the list of the aspiring Englishman?
    obviously you have to speak with a stiff upper lip, appreciate British humour, understand that the House of the Lords has got nothing to do with being religious, and that you can be knighted without having to fight dragons and save a beautiful princess in distress.

    You need to own a union jack boxer shorts, buy your grocery from Morrison because all produce are home grown, infatuated with a Rover, Lotus or a mini, appreciate Yorkshire pie and your family member are loyal customers at Marks and Spencers, John Lewis or Debenhams.

    (I can go on and on and on… but I think I will stop here!) 😉

    1. Thank you, Jo! 🙂 Glad to be back!

      Haha, those are good list items! Yay, I knew most of them 😉

      You’re the only one to answer this question, so no competition for you in the giveaway yet! 😀

  4. thanks for hosting this giveaway – the book sounds great!

    On the list for becoming a true English gentleman should be:

    develop a love of sailing, cricket, and tennis

    learn how to put together a “hamper” for a picnic in Hyde Park

    the ability to “carry on” no matter the trials and tribulations you are going through

  5. Bina, this sounds like a very nice book, especially because beneath its soft and cozy tones it has some serious themes I feel. As you rightly said, it’s not easy to talk about assimilation and war in a bantering tone but if Solomons has managed that tight rope walk then it’s commendable. Well, I must have this book so please enter my name in the giveaway! As for my contribution to Jack’s list –

    1) a stiff upper lip
    2) must love fish and chips
    3) cricket of course!
    4) carry an umbrella at all times for the unpredictable English weather!
    5) a love of ale and pub hopping
    6) chicken tikka! since it’s apparently their national dish now
    7) must travel by the famous tube, that is what makes a propah Londoner
    8) wry British humor where you speak with a deadpan face but make the most hilarious of jokes
    9) picnic in the English countryside
    10) and who can forget the rather famous English high-tea… I think that is still a tradition… 🙂

  6. No need to enter me (I really can’t acquire any books until I move), but I wanted to say the book sounds lovely! And also that it’s great to see you posting again 😀

  7. Great review Bina and I agree the exile assimilation into the new world can be painful yet at the same time it reflects the innate need to feel part of the community. Growing up I felt different for my ethnicity then went back home to live the cultural renaissance among my own… only to find that I was AGAIN an oddity for my Western thinking. Arrrrrrrrrrrr…. guess I’ll have to move to an Island and invitations are out for those displaced people like myself. Think of the cultural mishmash and the FOOD! Hmmmm Yum.
    ON the Englishman list…. Matthew Goode ! That’s all I need 😉

    1. I’d so come to your island! 🙂

      That sucks, that you experienced this feeling if isolation and displacement! I cannot get people to understand that looks don’t necessarily say where you’re from any more. Argh!

      Matthew Goode. . . hehe!

  8. Birdy’s list pretty much says it all. The only thing that I would add is to get a book on Brit expressions. I belong to a U.K. group and made a terrifying error when I said something that meant something entirely different. So, I am very careful!

    Also, I have always objected to the “melting pot” idea of everyone
    having to be the same, why not a colorful salad of different people?

    Would love to read this book.

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