Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English

Reagan Arthur Books  2010

 

By now, we are familiar with literature penned by “2G”-ers, children of the second generation, whose Jewish parents survived Nazi persecution. With time’s passage, it was inevitable that we’d begin to see writings from the next generation: the grandchildren.

British writer Natasha Solomons is one such grandchild. The “About the Author” section at this debut novel’s end reveals that Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English is based “on her own grandparents’ experience.” The novel focuses on Jack (né Jakob) Rosenblum, who emigrates from Germany to England with his wife, Sadie, a nd their baby daughter in the summer of 1937. Upon arrival, Jack receives a “dusky blue pamphlet entitled ‘While you are in England: Helpful Information and Friendly Guidance for Every Refugee’.” If Jack cherishes a Bible, this pamphlet is it: “He obeyed the list with more fervour than the most ardent Bar Mitzvah boy did the laws of Kashrut....” Over time, he expands and adds to the list based on his own observations.

Sadie Rosenblum does not share her husband’s enthusiasm for throwing off their past (or for his “verdammt list”). She is haunted by the family left behind—and lost—in Germany. This domestic conflict underlies the novel. But the challenge that actively propels the plot is Jack’s quest to build a golf course in Dorset, which results from his being denied golf-club membership—the final list item, “the quintessential characteristic of the true English gentleman.”

This is a stunning book, with setting, scenes, and dialogue all artfully managed (an aside: the cover art is equally lovely, although I can’t help wishing that this American edition had preserved the British title, Mr. Rosenblum’s List: Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman). It is no surprise to discover that Solomons is a screenwriter. Let us hope that she will soon script this story for film.

Discussion Questions

from the author's website

Mr Rosenblum’s List’ explores the real split between the need to adopt the host country’s customs while not losing one’s own heritage, and an ambivalence about wanting children to blend in but turning them into strangers in the process. Do you think these tensions can ever be reconciled?

Names are significant indicators of heritage in the novel, and signify who belongs and who doesn’t. Do you think it is important to preserve what Jack calls the ‘chain’ of names?

Could a Helpful Information booklet such as the one Jack uses, ever be of any use? What items would you put on a modern list?

The novel mingles folklore and Jewish tradition. What do you think the woolly-pig symbolises?

Sadie bakes obsessively to remember her family. Does this help her overcome her grief, or does it paralyse her further?

Jack’s obsession leads him to neglect his wife and their relationship is often strained and distant. Yet, when he nearly loses her, he regrets his behaviour and tries to make amends. Does Sadie forgive him? Can you?

What makes Jack ‘a true Englishman’?

There is an undercurrent of anti-Semitism in the book, exemplified in the character of Sir William Waegbert. Why does Sir William despise Jack so much? Is it just because Jack is a Jew, or is it also that he is upwardly socially mobile and a threat to Sir William’s ‘old England’?

The landscape of Dorset becomes a conduit for Jack and Sadie. After years of growing apart, they connect once again through a mutual love of the countryside. It reminds Sadie of her idyllic childhood in Bavaria and she is able to recall happy memories of her family, but why do you think that Jack falls in love with the landscape? Why do the countryside rhythms comfort them both?

Book Trailer (UK Edition)



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