10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unusual and touching
I loved Natasha Solomons' 'Novel in the Viola' - one of the best books I've read for years - and was surprised that this is completely different in tone and direction. It's the unusual, subtly clever story of Jack and Sadie, Jews who move to England from Germany and try VERY hard (or at least, Jack does) to fit in in rural Dorset.
Jack's obsession with 'fitting in'...
Published on 28 July 2011 by covergirl14
3.0 out of 5 stars A comic look on being accepted
Wittily described short novel of life as a new immigrant to England trying to be accepted into the best society.
Published 7 months ago by Yellowfinch
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unusual and touching,
This review is from: Mr Rosenblum's List (Audio Cassette)I loved Natasha Solomons' 'Novel in the Viola' - one of the best books I've read for years - and was surprised that this is completely different in tone and direction. It's the unusual, subtly clever story of Jack and Sadie, Jews who move to England from Germany and try VERY hard (or at least, Jack does) to fit in in rural Dorset.
Jack's obsession with 'fitting in' leads him to another compulsion, which drives the novel along - his all-consuming desire to build his own golf course, as he can't get admission into any all-English ones.
Jack's oft-thwarted journey to the final hole is both funny and heart-breaking. I have to say, I have never wanted a character to succeed so badly. I haven't read many novels recently where the main character was a man who isn't typically heroic and doesn't solve exciting crimes, so Jack was a bretah of fresh air. Sadie's loneliness and isolation contrasted perfectly with his never-say-die, optimistic attitude and their middle-aged love story is really sweet (and another breath of fresh air - I'm sick of good-looking professionals in their 20s who pervade everything in book-form at the moment).
You don't have to love golf to enjoy this weird and wonderful novel. You don't have to be Jewish. And you don't have to be typically English. But if you are fed up with the same-old crime, romance and daddy-beat-me-up-when-I-was-little novels, give this a try.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Weird and wonderful,
This review is from: Mr. Rosenblum's List: Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman (Paperback)I recently read Solomon's "A Novel in the Viola" and loved it, so was particularly eager to see if this novel retained a similar kind of magic. Actually for me, this was even better- because it was so wonderfully off the wall and was a brilliantly eclectic mix of humour, heartbreak and optimism. This is a really cracking novel and as far as debuts go, I found it flawless.
Though the title of the book initially appeared a bit frothy and the cover a little bit twee, the context of the novel is actually quite substantial, focusing on a Jewish immigrant family arriving in Britain during WWII. Jacob (Jack) Rosenblum becomes fixated with trying to be accepted by his new countrymen and fitting in as a proper `English gentleman' much to the chagrin of his long-suffering wife, Sadie. Moving from London to deepest Dorset, the book chronicles the trials and tribulations of the immigrants trying to gain acceptance, a theme which will no doubt resonate with a lot of readers.
The tone of this novel rather put me in mind of Alexander McCall Smiths books- gentle and thought provoking, despite the issues concentrated on. The plot is not fast-paced but becomes all the more appealing for that and as a reader you really get pulled into the story and experience Jack and Sadie's journeys and troubles along with them.
The characters are wonderfully written and retain a real sense of charm and whimsy with all of their funny little foibles. The only one I couldn't really feel a lot for was Elizabeth, Jack and Sadie's daughter, who did appear a little bit one dimensional. I really felt for Sadie, a woman who has suffered her own set of heartbreaks in the past, yet isn't really understood by her husband. She was a different kind of heroine to read about, which I enjoyed.
I would say that if you are looking for a different kind of read away from gushy romance or gory horror then to definitely give this a go. It is wonderfully old-fashioned and sweet- but thankfully never sickeningly so.
5.0 out of 5 stars I Recognise the Rosenblums.,
This review is from: Mr. Rosenblum's List: Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman (Kindle Edition)I recognise many of the people portrayed and am familiar with most of the situations so that I did believe the story. The writer really knew what she was talking about and had great sympathy for struggling refugees. Against all odds they had found relative financial success but they still had to overcome the zenaphobia which so often confronts people of other nationalities in England and in those days and even now, especially Jews. Mr Rosenblum felt enormous gratitude to the country that had been generous enough to take them in. He desperately wanted to be accepted. Mrs Rosenblum , whose domestic role was full of patterns established by her warm and loving family in her earlier life in Europe, had still to come to terms with the dreadful guilt of having left her family to an awful fate. It made me think again of all those foreigners who speak no English and battle to make a living and to find a niche for themselves in this day and age in the UK. The book read easily and fluently and I wanted to know what happened to this family.
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny,
This review is from: Mr. Rosenblum's List: Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman (Kindle Edition)A great book with fun in extraordinary places. Really worth a read for a good laugh with some serios pieces
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful,
This review is from: Mr. Rosenblum's List: Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman (Kindle Edition)This as recommended to me by a friend, I bought it for my Kindle ages ago but only just picked it up.... This book is all about the good things in life, Dorset Wooly Pigs & all! Wonderful, rich characters and the simplicity of the story will make you want to travel back in time a short way to rediscover the Really important things in life - like a passed down recipe for a cake, that makes you remember every time you take a bite, or a recipe for a jitterbug cider.... I wish I could have known Mr & Mrs Rosenblum & friends, life with people like these would be so so Good
4.0 out of 5 stars Advice Taken,
4.0 out of 5 stars Dreaming of Becoming an Englishman,
This review is from: Mr. Rosenblum's List: Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman (Paperback)Natasha Solomons's debut novel is the story of a refugee from Hitler's Germany who settles in England with one desire - to become a true Englishman. Jakob and Sadie Rosenblum arrive in London in 1937 from Berlin with virtually nothing, and with Sadie's family trapped back in Germany. While Sadie mourns the dead and clings to her memories and Jewish faith, Jack (who has changed his name from Jakob on arrival in the UK) plunges himself into making his fortune as a carpet dealer, and into becoming an assimilated Englishman. He creates a list of things that he needs to do to become English, and peruses it anxiously each day. By the end of the war (bar a nasty period where he is interned) Jack has all but achieved his goal. He is rich, owns a nice house in Hampstead, has sent his daughter Elizabeth to a good London school, wears Savile Row suits and has English friends. Only one thing is lacking - he can't find a golf club prepared to make him a member. And although Jack has never played golf and is no sportsman, he decides that he will never be a true Englishman without this asset. So, he decides to build one himself, and with his substantial earnings heads off with Sadie to live in Dorset and to build his own golf course, alone, on Bulbarrow Hill. But Jack has reckoned without the eccentricities of the locals, the strength of the Dorset cider, the villainy of local baronet Sir William Wegwaert of 'Piddle Hall' or the mysterious presence of the Dorset woolly-pig..
There's a lot to be admired in this novel. Solomons writes poignantly about the life of the refugee, contrasting Jack's determination to forget the past and make his own future with Sadie's nostalgia for Berlin and grief for her brother and parents. I loved the sections where Sadie baked her mother's recipes in order to keep a bit of her mother alive, and found Jack's list very endearing! In the Dorset parts of the book, Solomons also has very interesting things to say about the decay of rural culture after World War II (something that I remember discussing with my own grandparents, who grew up in Wiltshire, just over the Dorset borders, and who were slightly younger than Jack). And she writes beautifully about the Dorset countryside. The one problem for me with the book was that where Solomons was trying hard to appeal to a mass audience and to write a 'happy' novel, the story could occasionally become overly-whimsical and very slightly twee. Jack, for all his endearing qualities, did tend to become a stereotype of the 'brave little man' who seemed ridiculous but who eventually scored a great victory. Solomons says in her postscript that he was modelled on her grandfather to some degree, but that her grandfather Paul was a more cultured man, who loved playing the piano and painting. Jack might have been slightly more interesting if she'd modelled him more closely on Paul - his obsessions with 'Englishness' and his golf course did come across at times as very slightly monotonous, though his love of the Dorset countryside was well described. It was also disappointing that we didn't learn more about his past in Berlin - and I'm not entirely convinced (having known a few Hitler emigres myself) that many Jewish refugees cast off their faith and European identity so decisively. I found Sadie's more mixed emotions about England and homesickness for Berlin more convincing. Out of the other characters, the Dorset locals were very endearing, but tended to also slide into stereotypes as the 'wise old country folk', full of cider and old country lore, while Sir William was a pantomime villain (Solomons could have been much more subtly funny about the English upper classes). In addition, it was disappointing that Jack's daughter remained so one-dimensional and we never got any of the story from her point of view. This would have added another level of richness to the story. Still, I would definitely give the novel four stars: when Solomons really gets into her stride writing about the immigrant experience in Britain she can be very good indeed, and her love of Dorset shines out from every page. This is a light book but ultimately a touching one, and one that covers some interesting subjects. Having enjoyed Solomons's second novel as well, I'm looking forward to reading her third.
5.0 out of 5 stars great book,
This review is from: Mr. Rosenblum's List: Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman (Paperback)this is lovely.
coming from a jewish influenced house and family, i related to a lot of this. it makes one understand what these people, who either landed away from their normal life and were displaced, went through. how they struggled, and the tragi/funny side of things.
if you struggle to laugh at yourself, because you take life too seriously... read this and learn...
2.0 out of 5 stars Overladen with charm and whimsy,
You could walk through the deep meaning of this book without getting your ankles wet. Pick it up at the airport and read when you're most tired on the flight. Even then you're probably better off trying to sleep.
5.0 out of 5 stars A seriously delightful book,
Natasha Solomons writes in a straightforward, gentle way. The prose is a pleasure throughout and she writes of what she knows: of the place where she grew up and now lives, and of the heritage of her family. All of this makes the book an easy and very enjoyable read; she captures beautifully the Dorset countryside, the turn of the seasons and the people of that part of England. However, within this almost cosy setting and structure, this book has a great deal to say about some very important things - among them the meaning of belonging; the effect of evil forces destroying a person's family and most of what gives them the sense of who they are; the pain of exile and people's responses to it and - not least - the meaning of being English. Solomons also catches, with a lovely lightness of touch, much of the experience of exile - the tiny reminders of the past, the importance of food, the significance of names, the never quite feeling secure, and so on.
Jack and Sadie, refugees from the Nazis, respond quite differently to their situation. Jack, by means of the eponymous list, is determined to forget all about the past, to be relentlessly cheerful and to make himself into what he believes to be an Englishman. Sadie is concerned almost exclusively with her past and her terrible losses, and has no wish to be in the present or to be happy. Solomons doesn't spare them their faults but treats them with great compassion, so that I felt real sympathy for two initially rather unsympathetic characters. We see not only Jack's absurd and infuriating obsessiveness, but also his admirable indomitability and strength, and with Sadie not just her misery and determination to be unhappy but also the deep human importance of remembrance and connection to our roots. We are also reminded that her Dorset labouring men, although they do not join golf clubs or do many of the other things on Jack's list, are Englishmen - and among the best of Englishmen, at that.
All of this is done with a lovely delicate touch. Solomons doesn't labour points or lecture, so one is always carried along with the story. To give two examples: Jack gradually has to accept that in making his golf course he cannot just impose an imported plan but must work with the existing landscape, and this is gently mirrored in (but never explicitly compared with) his gradual abandonment of trying to make himself into something he patently is not. Also, there is a deeply poignant passage in which Sadie bakes many of the wonderful dishes of her childhood for the ladies of the Village Coronation Committee but does not feel confident to stay and eat her own food among them. This is made all the more poignant because Solomons doesn't beat you over the head with it - she describes it beautifully and then just leaves it with you. The book is full of such things - it's exemplary writing, I think.
Sorry to go on - there's a lot more I'd like to say but I'd better stop. This book is an easy and charming read but also has real substance, and it manages to be heart-warming without being fatuously sentimental. My sense of the book is perhaps encapsulated in a brief passage near the end which made me chuckle out loud at its beginning and at the end of which I had to stop reading for a minute or two because tears had dimmed my vision. It's a real gem, in my view, and wholeheartedly recommended.
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Mr. Rosenblum's List: Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman by Natasha Solomons (Paperback - 8 July 2010)