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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sweet Dreams

Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English
Natasha Solomons
Little, Brown, 2010

At the outset of World War II, Jack Rosenblum, his wife Sadie, and their baby daughter escape Berlin, bound for London. They are greeted with a pamphlet instructing immigrants how to act like "the English." Jack fully embraces learning to be British, but Sadie does not. The more Jack tries to assimilate, the more Sadie misses her family and the community she left behind. Jack acquires Saville Row suits and a Jaguar. He buys his marmalade from Fortnum & Mason and learns to list the entire British monarchy back to 913 A.D. He never speaks German, apart from the occasional curse. But Sadie stays at home, at first raising her daughter, and then puttering around the house, sometimes taking the time to reminisce with her box of photographs and mementos.

As the years go by, Jack adds more items to the list of things needed to become British. But no matter how he tries, he cannot gain access to the one key item that would make him feel fully British -membership in a golf club. In post-war England, no golf club will admit a Jew, and Jack does not want to join a Jewish club. So, he hatches a wild idea: he'll build his own golf club on his own land that he’s bought sight unseen out in the country. And he’ll let anyone join who wants to.

This obsession with British golf courses is an obsession that Sadie does not share, particularly when Jack relocates them to a thatched roof cottage in Dorset to embark on his project. She doesn't want to forget who they are or where they come from. She wants to bake the cakes she used to serve to friends in the old country and reminisce. Now she's stuck in an inhospitable landscape filled with unwelcoming people, watching their bank account shrink as Jack pursues his quixotic, and some would say, worthless dream.

At first I thought this was a pastoral, gentle story about an older immigrant couple trying to make their way in a new place, maybe accompanied by some quirky characters and mildly amusing stories dealing with cultural differences. While it does have these things, this novel possesses something deeper and more meaningful than that. I’ve been trying to put my finger on what this element is – maybe it’s the associations that start out superficial and then change into caring and supportive relationships. Or maybe it’s the predictable storyline that takes a side turn to the unusual with Jack’s efforts to build a golf course with his bare hands. Or maybe that magic element is Sadie’s development into a full bodied person with hopes and dreams and memories, whose confusing story of sadness and contentedness is a realistic one for most readers. Whatever “it” is, it makes for a satisfying poignant book.

I think the ending was a bit rushed, however. That is my only criticism.


This is the author’s first novel.

Other titles you may enjoy:

Never Say Never by Elizabeth Waite (2007)
In 1930, the sleepy Hampshire village where Emma Pearson lives with her family is offering rural holidays to orphaned children from London. John and Tommy, the two lads who stay with the Pearsons, become part of the family. Years later, when World War II breaks out, Emma must watch not only her own two girls, but also the boys who are like sons to her, play their parts as dramatic events unfold.

The Lost Garden by Helen Humphries (2002)
London is on fire from the Blitz, and a young woman gardener named Gwen Davis flees from the burning city for the Devon countryside. She has volunteered for the Land Army and is to be in charge of a group of young girls who will be trained to plant food crops on an old country estate where the gardens have fallen into ruin. Also on the estate is a regiment of Canadian soldiers. During this time, Gwen will inspire the girls to restore the estate gardens, fall in love with a soldier, and find her first deep friendship while finding a life that’s worth living.

Remember Me by Trezza Azzopardi (2004)
Determined to be no trouble to anyone, homeless septuagenarian Winnie pursues a young girl who has stolen her suitcase and wig, an endeavor that causes her to evaluate the events that culminated in her current status.

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