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A Powerful and Heart-Rending Story
on 14 October 2013
Bernice Rubens' 'Brothers', first published in 1983, tells the tragic and heartbreaking story of several generations of the Jewish Bindel family. Beginning in Tsarist Russia in 1825, we learn of the birth of the milk brothers, not exactly brothers, but two baby boys born on the same day, to the same family: Benjamin, born to Jakob and Esther; and Reuben, born to Jakob's and Esther's daughter, Miriam, and their son-in-law, Leon. Thus begins the saga of the Bindel family, and what a saga this novel is, as we read of the persecution of the Jewish people from the beginning of the nineteenth century until the latter part of the twentieth century. In this story we learn how Benjamin and Reuben are forced into the Russian army as ten-year-olds and how, by remembering Jakob's words to them before they left that, if necessary, they must submit in order to survive and that nothing is worth dying for unless it is in the name of love, they both manage to cope with the army's extreme and brutal treatment of them, treatment which causes the death of many of their young fellow soldiers. We learn of their eventual return as adults to their family, only to face the terrors of the Odessa pogrom; we learn of their family's escape from Russia to Wales, where one member tries to break away from his Jewish heritage and marries a coal miner's daughter; we read of the family's move to Germany, only to be persecuted by the Nazis; and we read of the family's return to Russia where one member is incarcerated in a Russian mental hospital for his dissident views.
Large in volume and in scope, this epic novel makes for a gripping and emotional reading experience and I should imagine that most readers would find it difficult not be moved to tears during the reading of some parts of this novel, especially those sections dealing with Buchenwald and Auschwitz. Even though, at times, I felt the author was a little too relentless in her tragic portrayal of the terrible events which befell her Bindel family, I could not fail to be moved by this very poignant and affecting story about family, about human relationships and about what it means to be Jewish. An impressive and powerful novel by a compelling storyteller and one to keep on the bookshelf to revisit again.