Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English–Natasha Solomons

This is a wonderful little novel.  Mr. Rosenblum and his wife and daughter escape Nazi Germany in early days and flee to England.  Upon arrival, Rosenblum is given a pamphlet on how to be British and he attends to it with the same degree of intention that he gives to all his endeavors, adding his own annotations.  He builds a fortune in the carpet industry.  He is stymied only in his efforts to join a golf club, where he encounters the wall of British anti-Semitism.

If you can’t beat ’em, build your own.  Rosenblum sees a crumbling old country home with acreage advertised and he moves his wife out of London into what seems to her the wilderness.  Rosenblum has never even golfed, but, as with his pamphlet on being British, he studies the masters and begins work on the course.  His work on the course at all hours with his own hands overcomes the prejudices of his rural neighbors, many of whom he eventually employs to help him in the course construction.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Rosenblum are struggling to find their place.  Mrs. Rosenblum has lived a life of loss and depression since arriving in England.  She cannot enjoy their successes knowing that they escaped the Nazis when her family did not.  She is particularly haunted by the shades of her mother and brother, whose artifacts she keeps in a box.  She and Mr. Rosenblum have grown widely apart.  She resents his assimilation as a betrayal of their lost family and he resents her sullen refusal to adjust to their new circumstances.  Both are somewhat adrift with their only child off to university and clearly avoiding them.  She follows her father’s lead in assimilating, which becomes most clear when her father realizes she has changed her last name to Rose.  This, combined with the loss of Mrs. Rosenblum’s artifacts to a flood in the house, brings everything to a crisis as she nearly succeeds in committing suicide.  This tragedy causes Mr. Rosenblum to reprioritize and the couple begin to come back together, even over the golf course.

A series of betrayals threaten Mr. Rosenblum’s realization of his golf course dream, but with the help of his wife, new friends, and a golf legend, the course opens and Rosenblum realizes he is fully English.

Solomons manages to deal with tragically painful issues of inhumanity without writing a purely dark story.  Rosenblum’s almost endless optimism and his comic efforts with the golf course relieve the horror of the period’s anti-Semitism, even in the land of those portrayed as the “good guys.”

Finished 5/23/12

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