Hunger and Thirst

Daniela Kuper

  • Review
By – August 10, 2012

Although Hunger and Thirst is Daniela Kuper’s first nov­el, she is a tal­ent­ed short sto­ry writer. As do most first nov­els, this one includes some auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal rem­i­nisc­ing, in this case of her own child­hood in Jew­ish Chica­go in the 50s.

The char­ac­ters Kuper cre­ates are any­thing but mun­dane. Irwina, already past the age of 30, meets her soul-mate, Bud­dy Trout, at the Aragon Ball­room, where Jew­ish sin­gles meet. They mar­ry, and fol­low­ing Irwina’s dream of bring­ing design­er cloth­ing to the work­ing-class women in the com­mu­ni­ty, they open The Frock Shop.’ There Irwina’s dream comes true: she can dress the neigh­bor­hood women in the cre­ations of the design­er world. Bud­dy, how­ev­er, is more inter­est­ed in just mak­ing mon­ey. The ambiance of the shop dete­ri­o­rates from ele­gance to less than medi­oc­rity as it par­al­lels the unrav­el­ing of the Trout family.

All the ills of a fam­i­ly in tur­moil come to the fore­front. Joan, the 12-year-old daugh­ter of Irwina and Bud­dy, sees her fam­i­ly being destroyed by the esca­lat­ing rift as her par­ents’ hopes and dreams col­lide and spin off in oppo­site direc­tions. Joan assumes the insur­mount­able task of heal­ing this rift.

The women-in-the-build­ing” give humor and human­i­ty to the major plot with their Fri­day night Kaloo­ki card games in each other’s apart­ments. They dis­cuss their lives (and every­body else’s) and com­pete for supe­ri­or­i­ty in enter­tain­ment skills — but nobody can out­do Irwina, who serves caviar and cham­pagne sur­round­ed by fresh flow­ers. Chap­ters depict­ing the women-in- the-build­ing” might well stand alone as vignettes in a com­plete drama.

All the char­ac­ters have hungers and thirsts that are nev­er sat­is­fied. These unre­quit­ed, nev­er-achieved hopes and dreams give this endear­ing and reveal­ing nov­el its uni­ver­sal under­pin­nings. Much of the dia­logue reads like a script. The author’s unique style of record­ing the ver­bal inter­ac­tions among the char­ac­ters fur­thers her dra­mat­ic tech­niques. The story’s many humor­ous aspects rec­og­nize the eter­nal human con­di­tion, meld­ing tragedy and com­e­dy in the author’s ren­di­tion of a dys­func­tion­al fam­i­ly in Jew­ish Chica­go fol­low­ing World War II.

Arlyne Samuels a grad­u­ate of Brook­lyn Col­lege, taught and super­vised Eng­lish in New York City for 40 years. She was the coor­di­na­tor of the book club of the Greater Worces­ter (MA) Chap­ter of Hadas­sah. Arlyne passed away in May 2009 and will be missed by the Jew­ish Book World team.

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