Here Comes Mrs. Kugel­man: A Novel

Min­ka Pradel­s­ki; Philip Boehm , trans.
  • Review
By – October 2, 2013

Pre­sent­ed with a mys­te­ri­ous inher­i­tance by her deceased Israeli aunt, Tsip­py Sil­ber­berg embarks on a jour­ney to Tel Aviv, eager to learn more about her her­itage and the mean­ing behind her new found pos­ses­sions. Tsippy’s plans for her trip are rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple: obtain the brown suit­case and fish ser­vice that her aunt left to her, try to find a hus­band to set­tle down with, and avoid indulging in her long­time pas­time of gorg­ing on frozen veg­eta­bles. Before she can accom­plish any of these goals, Bel­la Kugel­man, a strong-willed Holo­caust sur­vivor, sud­den­ly thrusts her­self into Tsippy’s life and begins mak­ing reg­u­lar vis­its, telling her sto­ries from her Pol­ish home­town of Bedzin. 

Tsip­py is ini­tial­ly reluc­tant to enter­tain Mrs. Kugelman’s long-wind­ed ses­sions of nos­tal­gia, but despite her best efforts, she fails to keep the old woman from reg­u­lar­ly vis­it­ing her suite. To her sur­prise, as the ses­sions con­tin­ue, Tsip­py finds her­self long­ing to learn more about her own ances­try and the her­itage that her father — a Holo­caust sur­vivor him­self — had kept hid­den from her since child­hood. As Mrs. Kugel­man con­tin­ues to feed her with col­or­ful sto­ries from Bedzin, Tsip­py grad­u­al­ly begins to claim the town and its peo­ple as her own. 

Here Comes Mrs. Kugel­man is an enjoy­able, engross­ing read. Pradelski’s depic­tion of Jew­ish life in pre-war Poland comes off as both high­ly imag­i­na­tive and authen­tic. At times there’s even a mag­i­cal qual­i­ty to Mrs. Kugelman’s sto­ries, as seen in tales like that of Gol­da, the staunch Com­mu­nist rev­o­lu­tion­ary so rigid in her views that she even­tu­al­ly turns to stone in her prison cell, thus avoid­ing cap­ture by the Nazis dur­ing the occu­pa­tion. By the end of the nov­el, the read­er will empathize with Tsippy’s over­whelm­ing desire to make the town of Bedzin her own and then cheer when she even­tu­al­ly finds a way to bridge that con­nec­tion to her own lost heritage. 

Jack­ie Anza­root is a grad­u­ate of Brook­lyn Col­lege with degrees in Eng­lish and Lin­guis­tics. She has held intern­ships at Simon & Schus­ter and is cur­rent­ly intern­ing at the Jew­ish Book Council.

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