The optimistic and generous title of this book does not hint at the complexities involved in making room for a stranger in a family with three daughters: sixteen-year-old, fashion-conscious Annette, pre-teen Rosetta who is curious, intellectual, and sensitive, and Esther, whose exact age is not revealed but seems to be about four-years-old. Each girl has the luxury of her own bedroom. That will change with the unexpected arrival of an orphaned war refugee who becomes an “adopted brother” when the family is asked to provide a home for him during World War II.
Only vaguely aware of the horrors of the war, this Jewish Canadian family, living comfortably in Montréal, is confronted with some of the harsh realities of life in Nazi Germany when a Mr. Schwartzberg arrives at their home seeking help for the suffering Jews of Europe. Rosetta, who loves to eavesdrop, overhears much of the adults’ conversation while hiding under the dining room table, but she doesn’t quite understand how much her family’s life is about to change. Isaac, their new sixteen-year-old “brother” shortly joins the family. Adjustments in life-style become necessary; making room for another sibling requires the two older girls to share a bedroom. This revelation is met with dismay but also curiosity, as well as an increasing awareness of life beyond their comfortable world.
The story portrays the pervasive, casually-expressed antisemitism the girls begin to experience and depicts life in a large Canadian city, which is similar to but subtly different from life in the United States. Although painful to read, the stories Isaac tells the family about life under Nazi occupation are muted enough to help children begin to comprehend the loss, displacement, and sadness engendered by the war without being overwhelmed.
Award-winning journalist and freelance writer, Helen Weiss Pincus, has taught memoir writing and creative writing throughout the NY Metro area to senior citizens and high school students. Her work has been published in The New York Times, The Record, The Jewish Standard, and other publications. She recently added “Bubby” to her job description.