A Call from Spoon­er Street

By – May 3, 2016

A Call from Spoon­er Street brings the read­er into the home of the Rosens, who have lived on Spoon­er Street in Madi­son, Wis­con­sin for decades. Pro­fes­sor Peter Rosen lives there alone since his wife passed away; their only child, Mar­lene, has moved to New York for under­grad­u­ate school, stay­ing for her doc­tor­ate in sociology.

The book opens when Mar­lene learns that her father has fall­en in the snow and is being hos­pi­tal­ized for hypother­mia. She has feel­ings of dread while pack­ing to trav­el to Spoon­er Street to be at her father’s side: I mean Peter has nev­er need­ed any­one, except to lis­ten to his lec­tures and he’ll make my time with him a misery.”

Peter Rosen is a retired pro­fes­sor and Ger­man lit­er­a­ture crit­ic. He is also a Holo­caust sur­vivor. Although his stu­dents remem­bered him fond­ly[…] they joked about his intem­per­ate reac­tion when they failed to meet his impos­si­ble Euro­pean stan­dards of excel­lence.” These exact­ing stan­dards car­ried into his fam­i­ly life. Peter and Mar­lene were con­stant­ly at odds: she hat­ed her father’s cru­el­ty and scorned his ambi­tion and mount­ing achieve­ments.” Hav­ing received her doc­tor­ate in soci­ol­o­gy, she was liv­ing alone in New York when she became preg­nant. You’re on your own with this,” he told her. I’m not inter­est­ed in your plans.”

But every fam­i­ly goes through cycles of joy and sor­row, con­flict and res­o­lu­tion. After the death of Marlene’s moth­er, Peter’s affec­tion for his grand­son allows the Rosens to reunite. If Peter had con­tin­ued to be a crit­i­cal and dis­parag­ing father, he had been a devot­ed grand­fa­ther. With Noah, an easy love had made him flex­i­ble and for­giv­ing.” Asch­er demon­strates how friends — such as Peter’s life-long best friend and uni­ver­si­ty col­league, Wal­ter — can also become an inte­gral part of a family.

The com­plex, fas­ci­nat­ing Rosen fam­i­ly dynam­ic reflects Ascher’s own per­son­al his­to­ry as the descen­dant of Jews who escaped — and some who didn’t — the atroc­i­ties of the Holo­caust. Through rich and col­or­ful char­ac­ter devel­op­ment, the read­er is led to dis­cov­er the sim­i­lar­i­ties in all fam­i­lies. This nov­el is a mov­ing, ten­der, and delight­ful read.

Ellen, orig­i­nal­ly from Albu­querque, NM, cur­rent­ly resides in New York City. She has been a vol­un­teer teacher at the Rodeph Sholom School and has held var­i­ous vol­un­teer patient sup­port posi­tions at Mount Sinai Hos­pi­tal in NYC. She is an avid read­er and active par­tic­i­pant con­tem­po­rary fic­tion book groups.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Car­ol Ascher

  • In the ongo­ing ten­sion between Mar­lene and Peter, who do you find more sym­pa­thet­ic, and why?

  • What events and mem­o­ries prompt Mar­lene to reex­am­ine her long-stand­ing resent­ments toward her father?

  • What is the source of the affec­tion between Peter and Raul?

  • Though most of us can pre­dict the end of the nov­el, we also feel sus­pense. How does this happen?

  • Was Mar­lene wrong not to tell Noah’s bio­log­i­cal father that she had a child? What would you have done?

  • What is Peter’s atti­tude toward both Ger­many and Amer­i­ca, and why does he regret about his years in the US?

  • Take the nov­el beyond the last scene. What hap­pens between Mar­lene and Renate? Does Noah adopt Kau­na and/​or con­tact his father?

  • Has read­ing the nov­el led you to reex­am­ine rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and for­give­ness in your family?