I’ve always claimed to be Welsh – my parents were born in Wales even though I was born in England. One day I’ll embark properly on a family history and prove that there’s more of a link than merely being able to mutter a few words to any passing Welsh speaker – which would probably get me into trouble anyway.
Today’s book is very different from my Welsh aspirations. Mr Rosenblum’s List by Natasha Solomons is a book about a family who escape 1930s Germany for England. Jack is determined to become as typically English as possible, and takes a leaflet given to him on the subject as the basis of his list. His wife is not so convinced; she yearns for her family who have died in the persecution of Jews. Jack continues to build up his English persona; as his business flourishes and rationing ceases, he equips himself with a very English suit and everything else he deems to be essential to the typical Englishman. Only one item remains, to join a golf club.In this thing he seems doomed to fail. No club will accept a Jew as a member, even if other, less prosperous men are welcomed. It is a this point he decides on his campaign to buy a piece of Dorset and build his own course.
It is at this point that the book really shifts up a gear, and becomes a funny, moving and involving account of rural life in all its variety and downright madness. Mythical beasts, an assortment of birds and creatures, none stranger than the humans to variously hinder and help Jack’s project with their country lore and more modern machinery. The seasons become important and the land almost becomes another character in the novel. Jack battles the class divisions that seem more pronounced in the country; as his money dwindles the hope of the course opening in time seems to be failing.
The other members of the family, Jack’s wife Sadie, and their daughter, Elizabeth, cannot divert Jack from his plans. Elizabeth goes to Cambridge and returns only on her terms. Sadie, however, feels the departure from London keenly. She begins to tend the garden but becomes more obsessed with her memories. She finds relative peace through her cooking of an immense memory cake which she shares, and begins to find her place in the country.
This is a novel of impossible dreams, memories and identity. The portrait of rural life is very effectively drawn, with great humour. Sadie’s memories are so real that this book could be depressing, but this is such an emotionally rewarding novel that is really enjoyable. The ending represents hope and justice; this is a positive book which is I greatly enjoyed reading once the action moved to the countryside. It is a bit of slow starter, but worth persevering through the first third of the tale to enjoy this unusual, but satisfying book.