I just read Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, by Natasha Solomons, for the From Left to Write online book club. Like its protagonist, it's an odd little book that starts out with rough edges, but has a golden ending.
Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English is about Jack Rosenblum, a German Jew who escapes his homeland before WWII and moves to England with his wife Sadie and their infant daughter Elizabeth. After the Rosenblums move to England, their families perish in Germany, leaving the small family on their own in a strange new country.
When Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English opens, Jack is desperately trying to become assimilated into English society. He is resourceful and determined, and builds a carpet factory that brings him modest wealth and allows him to aspire to become a true Englishman. He dresses the part, with fancy clothes and a Jaguar, but because he is Jewish, he is consistently denied the one thing he desperately wants: to be admitted to a golf club.
Sadie, meanwhile, is also desperate. She misses her family, her homeland, and the Jewish traditions she grew up with. She is furious with her husband and his rejection of his culture and heritage. When he uproots her from London to a ramshackle cottage in the Dorset countryside – with enough land for him to build his own gold course - the two are completely disconneted and barely speaking.
I found this book to be a bit disjointed. The first half of Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English depicts Jack and Sadie as silly, almost cartoonish. Jack is a man obsessed beyond all reason, while Sadie's silent fury defines – and almost erases – her personality. They are the laughingstock of their new town. Then there is a turning point, and Sadie and Jack soften toward each other. They become more reasonable. They find common purpose. And they start to realize Jack's dream - they start to fit in. The second half is a lighter, more credible story, but less quirky and original than the first half. I am so curious to know how that transition came about – did the author set out to write one book but realize halfway through that she wanted to write another?
Solomons did succeed, though, in writing a compelling story about assimilation, friendship and family. How do we define ourselves – by where we live, or where we came from? Do external factors like names and dietary habits – which can be abandoned and changed – really reflect who we are inside?
I mostly enjoyed this book. It was refreshing to read historical fiction, set outside the U.S., and I read it eagerly, wondering if Jack would persist in building his beloved golf course in time for the Queen's coronation. But I did find it inconsistent, as noted above.
Thank you to Reagan Arthur books for sending me a copy of Mr. Rosenblum Dreams In English so that I could participate in the From Left To Write book club (hi FTC!). Click here to read other posts by the other participants in the book club.