Fic­tion

The Orphan’s Daughter

  • Review
By – January 13, 2021

Jan Cherubin’s debut nov­el tells the sto­ry of a father and daugh­ter strug­gling to come to terms with each other.

Clyde Aronson’s life has been shaped by his expe­ri­ences in the Yonkers, NY, Hebrew Nation­al Orphan Home. Clyde was placed there by his moth­er as a sev­en-year-old — along with his five-year-old broth­er — after their father aban­doned the fam­i­ly in the 1920s. The bru­tal hard­ships Clyde lived through made him tough and calculating.

His daugh­ter, Joan­na, pro­vides much of the book’s nar­ra­tion. She paints her father as a high­ly intel­li­gent and respect­ed Eng­lish teacher, as well as a charis­mat­ic and col­or­ful fig­ure, but ulti­mate­ly lack­ing as a father. Her sad­ness is appar­ent when she says he was always deaf to her needs,” and cre­at­ed a bar­ri­er that was always up” between them. Their rela­tion­ship begins to change when Joan­na, now in her ear­ly thir­ties, comes to stay with Clyde — and his sec­ond wife — and care for him when he becomes seri­ous­ly ill.

Look­ing back, Clyde feels proud that he and his first wife gave Joan­na and her old­er sis­ter what he con­sid­ers an ide­al upbring­ing in 1950s and 1960s sub­ur­ban Bal­ti­more. At times it was, but under the sur­face lurked a trou­bled mar­riage, exten­sive wom­an­iz­ing, and benign neglect. These fis­sures in their home life impact­ed rela­tion­ships among fam­i­ly, friends, and col­leagues. Joan­na recounts numer­ous inci­dents over the years that point towards unin­volved par­ents. These behav­iors were jux­ta­posed against fun times grow­ing up in sub­ur­bia, var­i­ous intel­lec­tu­al pur­suits, and a year in Ire­land when Clyde won a Ful­bright Schol­ar­ship. This tumul­tuous fam­i­ly dynam­ic leads Joan­na to con­stant­ly ques­tion­ing her choic­es and desires.

The threads of Joan­na and Clyde’s sto­ries are beau­ti­ful­ly woven togeth­er by Joanna’s voice, which is at once hon­est and humor­ous, and offers a painful chron­i­cle of her jour­ney. Her nar­ra­tion is inter­spersed by chap­ters enti­tled, Tuck­a­hoe,” which are Clyde’s mem­oir of his life in the orphan­age. His voice sear­ing­ly describes the reg­i­ment­ed, harsh, and lone­ly times he expe­ri­enced at the Home; Clyde promis­es Joan­na she can have this man­u­script when he dies. Like­wise, the occa­sion­al inclu­sion of Clyde and Evie’s WWII love let­ters enrich­es the couple’s back­sto­ry and sheds light on their char­ac­ters’ moral­i­ty and passions.The nar­ra­tive unfolds flu­id­ly with well-paced unveil­ing and keep­ing of secrets, that accom­pa­nies sus­pense and var­i­ous oth­er sur­pris­es through­out the nar­ra­tive. Along with dark­ness, betray­al, and strife there’s also the promise of change, hope, and love.

The Orphan’s Daugh­ter is a poet­ic and engag­ing nov­el. Cheru­bin adept­ly cap­tures her many flawed char­ac­ters with nuance, human­i­ty, and insight, as well as col­or­ful­ly encap­su­lat­ing each decade with exten­sive details. The author’s father actu­al­ly spent his child­hood in an orphan­age and pos­sessed many of the same qual­i­ties as his fic­tion­al coun­ter­part. Cheru­bin also deals with many oth­er themes, includ­ing fem­i­nist issues, sib­ling love and rival­ry, divorce, polit­i­cal caus­es, and Jew­ish cul­ture in this reflec­tive, engross­ing, and heart­felt book.

Reni­ta Last is a mem­ber of the Nas­sau Region of Hadassah’s Exec­u­tive Board. She has coor­di­nat­ed the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Pro­gram­ming and Health Coor­di­na­tors and as a mem­ber of the Advo­ca­cy Committee.

She has vol­un­teered as a docent at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty teach­ing the all- impor­tant lessons of the Holo­caust and tol­er­ance. A retired teacher of the Gift­ed and Tal­ent­ed, she loves par­tic­i­pat­ing in book clubs and writ­ing projects.

Discussion Questions