Mr. Rosenblum's List, by Natasha Solomons

>> Monday, September 03, 2012

TITLE: Mr. Rosenblum's List: Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman (Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English in the US)
AUTHOR: Natasha Solomons

PAGES: 311

SETTING: Mid-20th century England
TYPE: Fiction

At the outset of World War II, Jack Rosenblum and his family escape Berlin for London. Jack embraces the welcome pamphlet instructing immigrants how to act like "the English." He acquires Saville Row suits and a Jaguar. He never speaks German, apart from the occasional curse. But one key item--membership in a golf club--remains elusive. So Jack hatches a wild idea: he'll build his own.

Jack's wife, Sadie, does not share this obsession. She wants to cook her mother's recipes and remember the life they left behind. But when Jack relocates them to the country, Sadie watches their savings deplete as he pursues his quixotic dream.

In this gently surprising first novel, Natasha Solomons tells the captivating love story of a couple making a new life--and their wildest dreams--come true.
Being an immigrant, I'm always on the lookout for stories that might reflect my experience in some way. Most of the ones set in the present-day, though, seem to be about the difficulties and the culture clashes and present immigration as a sort of necessary evil. This has not been my experience at all, and so while I do find these accounts valuable and interesting, I don't particularly identify with them. Me, I actually like England. I could go back and have a perfectly good life back in Uruguay any time, it's just that with all its flaws (which I do see!) this place suits me much better than Uruguay ever did. And so Mr. Rosenblum's List, with its insights into integration and the nature of Englishness spoke to me.

The story concerns a German Jew, the eponymous Mr. Rosenblum, who moves to London with his family when World War II is about to erupt. While his wife, Sadie, misses her former life and grieves for all she left behind, Jack (as he immediately decides to call himself) throws himself wholeheartedly into his new life and his new country, determined to become the most English Englishman of them all. He makes a list of what it means to be English, and will achieve all the items on that list, whatever it takes. All of them, including the one that turns out to be the hardest: membership in a golf club.

Mr. Rosenblum's List is hilarious and heartbreaking, sometimes at the same time, and it's also really insightful. Solomons really gets it, things like how it feels when you embrace something you love about your new home, but at the same time have a tiny niggling fear that some people find if funny that you have done so, or the realisation that some people will always perceive you as different and exotic, however at home you feel. Not that Jack Rosenblum has those realisations (at least that we know), but even so, the insights are there and they definitely resonated.



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