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on 28 July 2011
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.
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I thought this an excellent, immensely enjoyable book. It wasn't quite what I expected: from the publisher's description I thought it would be a gentle comedy of the conflict between the manners of the English middle-class in the 1950s and those of German Jewish refugees - something like George Mikes's How To be An Alien in the form of a novel. Well, there is some of that, certainly, but there is far more depth and subtle observation in the book, too.

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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I thought this an excellent, immensely enjoyable book. It wasn't quite what I expected: from the publisher's description I thought it would be a gentle comedy of the conflict between the manners of the English middle-class in the 1950s and those of German Jewish refugees - something like George Mikes's How To be An Alien in the form of a novel. Well, there is some of that, certainly, but there is far more depth and subtle observation in the book, too.

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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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 27 December 2013
A lovely, warm-hearted feel-good story about a middle-aged Jewish couple who settle in England after fleeing Nazi Germany. Jack Rosenblum is an energetic optimistic whose irrepressible spirit sees him become a successful businessman from nothing, and who is desperate to assimilate into his adopted land and become a 'proper Englishman'. His wife, Sadie, is quieter and sadder, finding it hard to leave behind her roots and mourning the deaths of family and friends who were unable to escape. When Jack is denied entry to a golf club because of his religion, he decides to build his own course and moves to the Dorset countryside to do so. What follows is the classic tale of a single, likeable character struggling against enormous odds on an eccentric, seemingly impossible task, and gradually earning the admiration of the sceptics around him.

Like all effective stories of this kind, there is a good amount of pathos underlying the narrative. It is by no means a saccharine or implausibly happy story. There are some very sad and moving moments and storylines here, and it balances out nicely. At first, I found Jack Rosenblum a rather implausible character, and I was irritated by his naivety which I felt was overdone. But by halfway through he had won me over as effectively as he did his rural neighbours. What at first seemed like foolishness, gradually showed itself to be the same willingness to take risks and determination to follow dreams that had allowed him to succeed as an entrepreneur. In the modern day, he would doubtlessly be appearing on 'Dragon's Den' with some sort of crazy invention that everyone would laugh at until they heard how much money it made.

It would make an excellent film (and I see the author is already working on a screenplay); one of those small-budget British films full of famous old Shakespearean actors making cameo appearances. It has all the right ingredients; plenty of emotion, colourful characters, a well paced plot that provides events throughout, and a satisfying ending that leaves a warm afterglow. It's perhaps a little bit far-fetched at times, but I was too enchanted by it to care. By the second half, it's really gripping, and is one of those 'escapist' books that really transports you away and lets you forget your own life and problems whilst you read. The writing style is very easy to read but by no means simplistic, and it conjures up vivid images without getting bogged down in descriptions.

I liked the way this story got across the sadness of survivors of World War II without making that the focus of the story. In fact, it manages to say a lot about several themes without needing to labour them. Stories about immigrants and their struggles to settle in a new culture are ten-a-penny, but this one stands out from the crowd by taking a different slant. The plot is original, although the basic concept of one-man-against-the-odds is well tried and tested. By getting the plot and pacing right, Solomons is able to expand on her weighty themes whilst keeping readers fully engaged and excited to keep reading, and this also increases the emotional impact of the sadder aspects of the story.

This is a very well balanced novel, and after a slowish start became unputdownable. It would have a wide appeal and could be enjoyed by readers young and old, from every walk of life. It's just a nice, readable, well-written book with lots going on and a lot of heart. I'd highly recommend it to all readers.
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on 8 March 2015
This was a book that inspired one of our readers to research online about British ‘woolly pigs’ in Wiltshire. For a narrative about a wartime refugee, who is struggling with the concept of xenophobia, that is not a classic recommendation.

It was a refreshing synopsis for the story; Mr Jack Rosenblum, a Jewish man who flees his home in wartime Germany and so desperately wants to assimilate into British society that he moves to the middle of nowhere to pursue his plans to build a classic golf course. The list, in the title, is given to refugees as a guide to ‘Englishness’ and it becomes Mr Rosenblum’s bible and mantra despite the misgivings of his long-suffering wife, Sadie and their daughter, Elizabeth.

Jack Rosenblum is, without doubt, one of the stupidest men our reading group has encountered. This is a successful businessman, the founder and owner of a London-based carpet manufacturer who invests in a country cottage without ever seeing it, writes a succession of invitations/letters to someone who never answers them and is regularly made to look foolish by locals who are canny about ways to make this heavily-accented stranger lighten the wad in his wallet.

Initially his one redeeming quality is his stamina, particularly during the early stages of creating the golf course. His tenacity, however, is also undeniable and unfortunately spurred on his obsessional behaviour. We were curious to know where his seemingly endless cash flow originated (although we acknowledged that buying Sadie golf clubs nearly bankrupted him at one stage.)

One of our readers mentioned that on the ‘Kindle’ version the notes at the back of the hard copy are missing and these introduce the author’s own family wartime history (also the source for her recipe information) and the essential point that the list was, in fact, genuine. With or without this knowledge the book, for the majority of our readers, was not that funny, or interesting and was therefore a disappointment.
Selling under a variety of names and in a choice of languages; ‘Mr Rosenblum Dreams in English’ and ‘The Perfect Gentleman’, this is far from unique in its treatment of cultural assimilation and there are other books that might be more useful for asylum seekers.

Our average score was 5.5 out of 10
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on 15 July 2014
Thoroughly enjoyable story.
Mr Rosenblum arrives in UK with family as a German Jewish refugee.
Slavishly following a pamphlet he is given on arrival, he sets about integrating in his new country.
Despite setbacks he works hard and is a great character. Relentlessly optimistic and persevering against prejudices and obstacles. He buys his food from Fortnum's and suits from the best tailors - but one aspect of british life - golf - is denied to him. He addresses this, in his own way. Meanwhile his wife Sadie is homesick for the life she left behind and haunted by relatives who were unable to escape. As Mr. Rosenblum builds his golf course Sadie finally finds comfort in her adopted country. Warm likeable characters- this was a delightful yarn..
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on 17 August 2012
Poignant, humorous, tragic and heart-warming. One of the best books I've ever read. It'll stay with me forever. The story of a simple man who just dreams of being English and fitting into everything that is English. This novel proves that if you work hard you can make dreams come true. There will always be people who will doubt and even try to stop you from achieving your dreams but Mr.Rosenblum's passion and persistence showed to have paid off. And he went from a mere Jewish immigrant with nothing to a beloved friend, father and ultimately, British man.
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on 18 December 2015
When I started reading this book I was not sure I was going to like it but that very quickly changed to my loving it. An immigrant's view of what makes an Englishman was so amusing I laughed out loud on a number of occasions but felt so sad at his rejection by some, so called, gentlemen. Most of it being set in my home county of Dorset was an added bonus and I delighted in the hairy pig references. The description of the tree embedded in golf balls was wonderful and so vivid I could really see it in my mind's eye. So good.
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on 12 June 2013
The book seems to vary between one story (the Rosenblums' attempts to fit into English life) and another (Mr Rosenblum builds a golf course). But the story sags with forced merriment, faux whimsy and inserted jollity. The locals are by-and-large entertaining and have quaint accents and beliefs. The nasty chaps are suitably nasty, by jove. The days are perfectly sunny or perfectly covered in snow. The cakes, flowers, birds are all in there. Think "Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society" meets "The Darling Buds of May". There's touches of "The Book Thief" in there - the serious comment of the holocaust - but it hardly slows us down at all.

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.
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on 16 November 2011
I save my one star reviews for books that I have been unable to finish. Reading reviews that described this book as charming and funny, I was quite looking forward to it. Mr Rosenblum, however, is a horrible character. By page 59 I was ready to commit murder and had to cease reading.

Had I been Mr Rosenblum's wife, I would have dispatched my husband a few days after arriving in England.

I didn't find any humour in it. I didn't find the manner in which England (or the English populace) was portrayed in any way charming and I shan't be reading anymore novels by this author
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