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Review: Mr Rosenblum’s List, Natasha Solomons

Jack and Sadie Rosenblum move to England just before the start of World War II, their little girl in tow and big dreams in their heads.  In Jack’s head, at least, as he longs to be a proper Englishman.  On arrival in England, Jack receives a checklist of ways to become English.  Jack fails to recognize the nuances of the said list and instead decides to conform to everything as though it were a requirement, marking him out as a foreigner just when he wants to fit in.  Meanwhile, his wife Sadie wants to cherish her roots, and daughter Rose becomes a genuine native.  When Jack reaches the final item on his list – joining a golf course – he struggles to find membership as a German Jew, and embarks on a quest to build his own golf course in a small rural town.

This book was completely charming in just about every way.  Natasha Solomons writes in a wonderful, easy to read prose style but conveys the very true difficulties of adapting into a new society.  Perhaps it’s unlikely that a man would conform to a list in order to fit in, but Jack uses the pamphlet as guidelines and doesn’t ever get close enough to English people in order to learn otherwise.  They shut him out and treat him as a bit of a dummy, but again, he can’t pick up on those nuances – and when he does, they hurt so much that he simply ignores them.  It’s enough to break your heart.

I loved the relationships in this novel, particularly when Jack and Sadie move out of London and try to fit in a country town.  They’re still outsiders, true, but it’s a little bit different when you’re the only outsiders and don’t have your own community to rely on.  The reactions of the townspeople to them are vastly interesting, as are those with their London friends who occasionally come for a visit.  This part of the book seemed remarkably true to life for me; obviously, no one discriminates against me quite so much, but I have seen nationalities band together and form friendships based on nothing but their similar backgrounds; if you’re the only foreigner, attitudes and behaviors change.

Finally, I loved the culinary threads woven throughout the novel.  It’s so true that food is a clear link to heritage; smells and flavors remind us of certain times in our lives as nothing else does.  I wanted to try everything that Sadie made for myself; it’s so evocatively described that I could almost but not quite taste it.  The food also made clear how Sadie felt in ways that the prose by itself couldn’t quite express, adding another layer on to the cultural isolation of the family and her character in particular.

Truly, Mr. Rosenblum’s List was a delightful book.  It warred with my emotions and is surprisingly sad in parts, but it’s a remarkable depiction of the immigrant experience and manages to be a fantastic story besides.

This book is known as Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English in the US. I’m an Amazon Associate and I purchased this book.

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