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.