Talking of summer reads the NTTVBG team have been putting together a selection which we will be posting about soon, not collective reads, just some suggestions for good holiday reads for your delectation and I'd add this one to the pile too.
Young married couple Jack and Sadie Rosenblum and their baby daughter Elizabeth arrive in Harwich as refugees having fled from Germany in1937, and Jack has aspired to be an Englishman ever since. Having been given the leaflet While you are in England : Helpful Information and Friendly Guidance for every Refugee Jack decides that assimilation is the way forward and proceeds to live his life by the letter of the rules. Sadie meanwhile is grieving and continues to do so, not only for her family left behind but for the loss of her way of her Jewish way of life and its traditions. Jack is 5ft 3" of tenacious, sanguine and determined man, desperate to belong and be accepted by his new nation, whilst Sadie is nervous, insecure.. an outsider and determined to remain so.
Slowly Jack prospers and makes his fortune in carpets and on a whim, as Coronation year approaches, he buys a cottage and some land in Dorset. Every golf club in the country has rejected Jack's application and convinced that he can't be properly English until he belongs to one... and even though he can't play but doesn't think it can be that difficult... Jack decides to build his own course and have a grand opening on Coronation Day.
Much as I don't wish any ill on Her Majesty I'd love to witness a coronation. Amazing to think that for anyone my age or under (I was born three months later) we have never witnessed one and Bookhound at just five months old doesn't remember much about the last one either.
This book may sound eccentric, improbable and far-fetched, in fact very Englishly so, but that's the source of its unbridled joy because somehow Natasha Solomons has captured a really unique writing style and narrative voice that beguiles and enchants in the most unusual way. It's a new take on a serious subject, light and humorous as Jack takes his book of rules at face value... if you're invited for drinks at the Big House at 7pm Jack assumes you must arrive at 7pm, not 7.30pm, and wearing...well what do you wear for drinks?
We used to get invited to a Big House for Christmas drinks, and we weren't even refugees but it was always a source of unmitigated stress and an elephant on the Christmas horizon for us as we anguished about what the dress rule 'Jerseys' , noted on the invitation, might mean.
Is that some posh jersey?
Is a jersey a jumper?
Can it be hand-knitted or should it be bought?
Will M&S do?
Bookhound, who never wears a jumper or a jersey hauled himself into his only one, some great chunky outdoor thing the size of a Big Top, it was indeed a very big top, and all because the invitation said so, and proceeded to boil alive, and needless to say when we arrived looking like peasants to find everyone else in suits (because they were going out to dinner afterwards) we felt like a pair of complete numpties and declined future invites.
That was it for us and Big House socialising.
Natasha Solomons' humour conceals some starkly unpleasant home truths about the impossibilities of the British class system, cultural exclusion, anti-semitism and underlying themes of exile and identity frequently surface. The depth of Sadie's grief is slowly revealed and when her Memory Box containing precious links with her family is destroyed she must seek other ways to keep her memories alive and maintain those continuing bonds with her past.
As I read Mr Rosenblum's List I quite thought I'd found a book wherein no one dies and was cheering that fact, except I was wrong, but no worries, it's actually a 'lovely' and 'right' death, and I do believe there can be such things,and this is a lovely and right book too that I have enjoyed reading immensely.
So the Gamekeeper walked in and found me sitting out on the verandah at 8pm reading the final pages of this one,
'Ah just the person I need,' I said...and he's used to questions like this.
'Can you really catch moles with ferrets?'
'They do in this book' I replied 'and make things out of the skins, I told you we should have done that with all yours, nice pair of patchwork moleskin trousers, we'd only have needed about 200...you've easily caught that many'
'It's fiction, it's allowed, you just need a bit of imagination.'