Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mr. Rosenblum's List

or Friendly Guidance
for the Aspiring Englishman

Natasha Solomons
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

I came very close to not finishing this book because in the early chapters so many sad things happened. I didn't feel like I was ready for that just yet. Now, I’m so very glad I did finish it.

It’s about this German Jew named Jack Rosenblum who keeps a list of the ways he must assimilate to the British Way, particularly after his experiences being detained as an Class A Alien during the Second World War. Eager to never be mistrusted by the British Crown again, he wants the ultimate goal for any Jewish person of the time: being a Jew lucky enough to be given membership to a Golf Club.

Turned down by nearly every Golf Club in his area, he decides to build his own golf course, gaining not only a reputation as the “Mad Jew” of the countryside he dwells in, hell bent on making a golf course he need not be ashamed of being allowed to play on, but he gains friends like Curtis, an old school Dorset fellow who believes in the mysterious Woolly-Pig - a strange creature that is only seen by the truest of Dorset men.

Jack desperately feels the need to belong as an Englishman in England. He's ashamed of being German, and also ashamed of being a Jew. His new religion is the pamphlet he received on arrival to England entitled, "Rules of Being English." He incorporates each rule into his everyday existence.

While, Sadie, on the other hand, was never willing to give up her heritage nor her memories. She doesn't want to forget where they came from or the family they've lost. Sadie loves to bake - it keeps her close to her memories of family who died in the Holocaust. Her special love is the Baumtorte. In one lovely passage, she is teaching her grown daughter, Elizabeth, to make it in hopes that she might remember too.

The two women lugged the tin bath inside to scrub it clean. They counted out the eggs, weighted the butter, flour and sugar and mixed them together. Sadie unfastened her stockings, washed her feet, and climbed into the bath and began to tread the batter slowly between her toes, the mixture oozing creamily.

Taking her time, she blended the ingredients, feeling them grow smooth and slippery beneath her skin. Elizabeth watched as she ladled the buttery mixture into great tins and toasted each layer under the grill. The cake grew tall, sprouting like a sapling ... the sweet scent of baking pervaded the house. The fragrance of Baumtorte was always tinged with sorrow."

Baumtorte means Tree Pie in English. The circular layers of the torte resemble the circles in the trees.

 Living in London has driven Jack and Sadie apart. They no longer can remember their early days spent crazily in love. It isn't until moving to the Dorset countryside and Jack's impossible scheme of creating his own golf course that breaks down their barriers and allows each of them to look, REALLY, look at each other. In Dorset, they learn to love again. In the land of woolly pigs, bluebells and jitterbug cider.

In The Times review, they said, “Hilarious and touching … Yes, the movie is already on its way – but please read the delightful novel first.”

The author says the book was inspired by her grandparents, who arrived in England from Berlin in 1936 with almost nothing. On disembarking they were handed a pamphlet titled Useful Advice and Friendly Guidance for All Refugees.

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