Wednesday, December 8, 2010
REVIEW: Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, by Natasha Solomons
Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, Natasha Solomons's first novel and a tribute to her grandparents, is the kind of bittersweet story that will probably be made into one of those adorable English comedic films where the colorful, eccentric hero (in this case) has a dream and battles the small-mindedness and prejudice of his or her neighbors to make it a reality. I'm kind of looking forward to seeing that movie.
The story is about Jack and Sadie Rosenblum, German-Jewish immigrants to post-war England. More than anything, Jack wants to fit in. He wants to be English in every way and even makes a list of the things he must do- where he must buy his clothes, what kind of car he must drive, and what hobbies he must have (the original British title of the book was Mr. Rosenblum's List). In some ways the Rosenblums prosper; Jack runs a successful carpet manufacturing concern and he and his wife have a (materially) comfortable life. But no matter how hard he tries, he's still German, and he's still a Jew, and neither of those things work to his advantage when it comes to settling into a homogeneous island country still reeling from Hitler's assault.
Over the years he manages to tick off just about every item on the list; he has the clothes, the car, and a successful daughter at a top school. But there's one thing left. He can't get admitted to a single country club. The final prize, the final confirmation of his entree into English society, is barred to him. So what does he do? He decides to open his own country club, on a parcel of land far away from the city life to which he and his wife have become accustomed. That's when everything goes haywire.
I liked Mr. Rosenblum but I didn't love it. It's well-written and enjoyable and covers ground both light and dark. His country neighbors are a mix of friends and foes, cartoonish villains and stereotyped eccentrics, and his adventures trying to build the course by himself are dramatic and funny and sad. It was this split personality that gave me pause. I wasn't sure if I was reading a comedy or a tragedy sometimes; the author didn't commit to either approach but rather veered back and forth between the two. She covers a lot of the same ground as Helen Simonson's wonderful novel from earlier this year, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (sure to be in my Top 10 of 2010) but this book feels less polished and less complex.
Having said that, I do think it would make a great movie and it is a fine book. I think there are a lot of readers out there who would really enjoy this and I'd suggest it to readers of light fiction, Jewish fiction and sweet English stories. I love the tenderness and affection which Solomons feels towards these unmoored characters trying to fit in in a new place, and the portrait the book offers of post-war English life. The story of the Jews who moved to Britain post-war isn't something I've seen often in fiction so this book was a welcome addition to that canon of writing. I hope to see more from Solomons in the future, whatever she decides to write next.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.