21 Aldgate

Patri­cia Friedberg
  • Review
By – August 31, 2011

Span­ning post-World War I through­World War II British his­to­ry, 21 Aldgate fol­lows the Simon fam­i­ly through ten­u­ous times that for­ev­er forged and sep­a­rat­ed fam­i­lies. The sto­ry begins when Clara Simon can no longer tol­er­ate her boss’s vir­u­lent anti-Semi­tism. She quits her job and by chance winds up a week lat­er employed by the famous artist Paul Maze, friend to Win­ston Churchill and oth­er Euro­pean diplo­mats. Clara’s life irrev­o­ca­bly changes as she begins to help Charles write his painful World War I mem­oir. Now Hitler’s ascen­dan­cy threat­ens world peace anew, but Britain’s elite think he’s a joke and don’t believe the rumors spread­ing about con­cen­tra­tion camps and the dis­ap­pear­ance of Jews, includ­ing Clara’s Aunt Nel­lie. Paul and Clara trav­el to France to help remem­ber parts of Paul’s expe­ri­ences as a field artist for Eng­land and France and to find Aunt Nel­lie. Both Clara and Paul expe­ri­ence first­hand the fear felt by Ger­man Jews and pro­tes­tors at the hands of the secret police and Hitler’s new sol­diers. Paul and Clara then fall in love, a rela­tion­ship doomed to fail via their dif­fer­ent worlds. It is Clara who final­ly set­tles into a deep­er appre­ci­a­tion of what it means to be a Jew­ish wife, moth­er, and cit­i­zen, a role that strength­ens both her and her fam­i­ly through the dif­fi­cult days of bomb­ing that lie ahead for Eng­land. The fas­ci­na­tion of this nov­el lies not only in Clara’s ups and downs through­out this process but the reac­tions and respons­es of her fam­i­ly, rep­re­sent­ing the var­ied points of view and adjust­ment or lack there­of amid England’s besieged Jew­ish and sec­u­lar com­mu­ni­ty. The vicis­si­tudes of World War II are splen­did­ly delin­eat­ed in this intrigu­ing novel.

Abra­ham J. Edel­heit is an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of his­to­ry at Kings­bor­ough Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege (CUNY) and the author, co-author, or edi­tor of eleven books on the Holo­caust, Zion­ism, Jew­ish and Euro­pean his­to­ry, and Mil­i­tary affairs. His most recent pub­li­ca­tion appeared in Armor mag­a­zine, the offi­cial jour­nal of the US Army Armor and Cav­al­ry Command.

Discussion Questions