Wanting to talk of the weather, wanting to queue, and wanting to take tea.
Publisher: Sceptre (Hachette)
First Published: 2010
Date Reviewed: 6th January 2015
Jack and Sadie Rosenblum, Jews, left Germany for England as life became dangerous, and upon arrival, Jack was given a leaflet regarding the conduct expected of them. He takes it to heart. Above and beyond what is expected, Jack makes it his mission to become a proper Englishman in every way.
Mr Rosenblum’s List is a book that obviously looks at what it means to be traditionally English, but also at responsibility and general social history. It’s quiet and character-driven and isn’t likely to blow you away except if you get caught in the gale-force wind, but it will make you chuckle and consider the experience of immigrants.
Whilst mostly, aptly, focused on Jack, there is a lot of time spent on Sadie. In many ways she’s the long-suffering wife, the one wanting to keep the traditions of home whilst her husband wants to forget them. You see the contrast in the way they go about their individual lives – how Sadie starts to enjoy her new life, to blend the old and new, and, inevitably you witness how she begins to fit in without trying to. Solomons doesn’t make this idea a focus, far from it, but it’s there – that thought that sometimes letting things happen as they will works better than being forthright. Sadie has ample space for mistakes; Jack in his boldness has little.
The study of different cultures is a natural by-product of the subject. You have the differences between the Jewish Germans and the English, and of course racism, anti-Semitism, but as the story moves from London to Dorset Solomon provides a mini introduction to the fact of diversity within a single country. Accents are well included throughout and the scenes wonderfully set. If you want quintessential rural England, this book is for you. That the book is set in the mid-1900s means the descriptions flourish, being just as realistic as they are rose-tinted.
Solomon looks at how immigration affects generations. Jack and Sadie’s daughter is very British and you see the happiness and longing of parents both proud of their child’s place and sad at the loss of connection with her due to the difference in culture. And because it is by and large told from Jack and Sadie’s points of view, if offers a lot of food for thought.
Given the two locations – London and Dorset – there are observations of how technology and change affect life as we know (knew) it and of course, again, how it has an impact on culture. Solomon places emphasis on working with nature as part of Jack’s progress, allowing folklore to play its rightful part.
There is little focus on the war. It is spoken of but not the point of the novel. This is a story of the people, how life carried on.
Mr Rosenblum’s List loiters much as some of the characters do. It shows you a swath of greenery and rarely takes you away from it, and it lets you potter among Sadie’s roses as you consider the reasons people change their names. Read it on a sunny afternoon with a pot of tea and a plate of scones and you’ll surely have Jack’s approval.