Mr. Rosen­blum Dreams in English

By – September 26, 2011

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.

Eri­ka Drei­fus’s lat­est book, Birthright: Poems, was pub­lished by Kel­say Books in Novem­ber 2019. Her short-sto­ry col­lec­tion Qui­et Amer­i­cans was named an Amer­i­can Library Association/​Sophie Brody Medal Hon­or Title for out­stand­ing achieve­ment in Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture. An Adjunct Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at Baruch Col­lege of The City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York, Eri­ka is deeply engaged with and con­ver­sant in con­tem­po­rary lit­er­a­ture, pub­lish­ing, and Jew­ish writ­ing. She is also the edi­tor and pub­lish­er of The Prac­tic­ing Writer, a free (and pop­u­lar) e‑newsletter that fea­tures oppor­tu­ni­ties and resources for fic­tion­ists, poets, and writ­ers of cre­ative nonfiction. 

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Natasha Solomons

  1. 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?

  2. 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?

  3. 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?

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

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

  6. 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?

  7. What makes Jack a true Englishman’?

  8. 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’?

  9. 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?