I chose this NetGalley book because it spoke to me of my childhood, and then was astonished at how much the characters in it were my family come to life in a book…
Except that most of my family spoke very little Yiddish in comparison to these.. These were 2 generations or more closer to the ghettos than mine.
So let’s look at the similarities:
- My family also come to England from the White Russian/Polish areas -maybe before those in the book though, as they left in the late 1800s as a result of the ghettos and pogroms happening then. So we had not got family in Europe during the Holocaust luckily;
- They also went and settled into the East End – all around Bow;
- Then they all went to live in and around Edgware just before the 2nd World War. Some in the same street, others around the corner.
- I remember the Jewish shops in Edgware – the fish shop where you could buy gefilte fish ingredients ready chopped and the bagel shops. But our Kosher butcher was at the Green Man shopping parade and he sold the most tasty boiling fowl with lots of egg yolks to put in the soup. Now as for Kneidlach, there were 2 ways if making them – heavy or light, and each of my grandmothers made them the 2 different ways. My preference, and my husband’s, is for a middle way. Yes I still make them! But most of the Jewish shops have now gone from Edgware – it is a very sad shopping centre now, the department store has gone and so many of the shops that used to thrive there;
- And I too went to a Mill Hill synagogue – but a different one from in the book – and Cheder on a Sunday too. But I stayed on for much longer and very nearly got Bat Mitzvahed – the female version of a Bar Mitzvah, which was quite unusual then in an orthodox synagogue. I have several trees in Israel I paid for with my stamps I bought each week at Cheder.
- And finally I too had friends and relatives who went to Israel and stayed – none went until they were 18 at least though, and most went to spend time in a Kibbutz. Many came back though as the politics became too right wing for them. Once it was full of Ashkenazi now not so much.
- Oh, and a point about me – I had a DNA test and I am 99% of Jewish origins and 1% Nigerian. I have 3 different strains including one dating back to a tribe in the Middle East from Biblical times.
Now let’s talk about the book.
So while yes, it did take me down memory lane, and for me that was fun, I suspect that for many others there was far too much Yiddish and not enough explanation and the glossary at the back was unreadable. The Jewish wedding description only applied to a very Frum event, I don’t remember more than one wedding where there were chairs involved let alone ribbons – except on TV. So I think many of the customs were exagerated for effect. Which is both good and bad. And honestly, the whole ending was too trite.
There is also such a difference between the ‘tribe’ and its customs, and the faith. I believe that I am Jewish because of my tribe, not my faith – I am non-religious – and each sub-tribe – depending on their village and Rabbi in the 16th and 17th centuries, have developed their own versions of the culture and customs. Espcially between the Ashkenazi – the Western European – and the Sefardi – the Eastern Jews. and even practice their faith in different ways too.
I find myself torn in how to characterise this book. Whilst it is clearly a romance – with some humour and tristesse, it is also a book about a dying culture – in terms of the customs practiced. So, did I like it because of my own history and memories brought back to me? Or because of the story? Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion, it is the former and thus without those memories the book would not have struck me as a good read which will limit its appeal.