I had been meaning to read ‘Mr Rosenblum’s List’ by Natasha Solomons ever since it arrived here at Savidge Reads HQ before Christmas last year, and then made it one of my books to look out for in 2010. Then I decided to wait a while, partly to let myself calm down a little from it and also because it wasn’t coming out until the start of April and if I read it early you might not remember it if it was any good. One of the new little mottos for the new Savidge Reads is that even if I read a new book before its out you wont hear of it until after its out, make sense? Now however it seems that I am a little late to Mr Rosenblum’s party and quite a few lucky blighters have gotten there first, ha…
I know you should never judge a book by its cover but the hardback of Natasha Solomons debut is utterly delightful and it’s a good place to start because so is the book. However ‘Mr Rosenblum’s List’ isn’t quite the ‘utterly charming and very funny’ read that Paul Torday quotes on the cover, it’s actually that and more. Amongst the humour and charm lie some big questions and rather dark, thought provoking undertones running the whole way through the book.
Jack Rosenblum has come, along with his rather reluctant wife Sadie, to live in England in the hope of becoming a truly English Gentleman. Disembarking in Harwich in 1937 he and Sadie have come from Germany where the movement against Jews has already started although the war isn’t due to start for another two years. On arrival they are told that assimilation is the key and that they must do everything they can to become almost invisible and follow the ‘Helpful Information’ leaflet to the latter. Jack has been obsessed with England and the English since first hearing the forecast on the radio and believes that he knows exactly what you must do to become a true Gent and fit in, you must buy marmalade from Fortnum and Masons, no hand gestures must be made to show too much emotion and German simply must not be spoken.
Despite his obsession and his efforts and even starting the most successful carpet firm in the East End he still manages to get arrested and shortly imprisoned for not quite fitting in enough and that’s how he ends up briefly in the countryside which he falls in love with, and comes up with a plan involving that most British of sports… golf (if like me you aren’t a fan of golf don’t let it put you off), only he isn’t bargaining on the countryside being harder to fit in with than London.
I did enjoy Jack’s story a lot however it was actually the story of his wife Sadie that really struck a chord with me and I only wish she had been in it and explored a teeny tiny bit more. She doesn’t love England like her husband, in fact for half the book I wondered if she loved her husband at all and vice versa, and is rather baffled by it all she misses her life before no matter how hard it was. Through her runs a tale of loss and sadness (that happens to spread throughout the village when anyone smells her Baumtorte – it is in fact baking that eventually settles Sadie somewhat into village life with the other women). She is often bemused by her husband and wonders why Jack finds it so desirable to fit in and tries so hard (whilst Jack cannot understand why Sadie won’t try and, for example, get a blue rinse like all the other women) and more importantly seems to forget who he is, his culture and where he comes from. It was that particular strand of the story, to me at least, that was very much the heart of this book and what it was all about and I found that both poignant and emotive.
“Lavendar blinked, forced a tight smile and then relaxed. This was the first time Mrs Rose-in-Bloom had casually mentioned her German past. But, Lavendar supposed, it wasn’t sordid like Mrs Hinton’s younger sister whose ‘past’ had been a long haired sailor from Kentucky. Mrs Rose-in-Bloom’s past wasn’t her fault, and perhaps it was better that she spoke of it from time to time.”
I think it was Sadie’s story and Jack’s humorous try hard nature that set this book well apart from the normal stereotypical tale of strangers moving into and English village and being deemed ‘the outsiders’. It also interested me that I went from not liking Sadie to wanting the whole book to be about her, thats a rare thing with me. I do need to mention one wonderful character though who also makes the book a delight and that is Curtis Butterworth and his secret cider recipe. He steals the show on several occasions and is someone I would love to have as a neighbour if I ever end up in a village in the middle of the countryside. All in all this is a delightful debut, I am looking forward to more of Natasha’s work in the future and am hoping she isn’t afraid to delve that little bit deeper into the darker undertones out there because she writes humour and delight just as well as she does sorrow and hardship in the glimpses we see. 8/10