Mr Rosenblum’s List

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Mr. Rosenblum's List: Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman by Natasha Solomons, book reviewGerman Jewish immigrant, Jack Rosenblum has done well for himself since arriving in England between the wars with his wife, Sadie, and their baby daughter. He has established a successful business that provides work for many, bought a lovely family home in a leafy London suburb and, now grown up, his daughter is heading for Cambridge university. There’s only one thing that prevents Jack from calling himself an English gentleman, something that, since arriving in England, he has worked hard to become: he wants to be a member of a golf club. Unfortunately for Jack, the (then) acceptable casual racism of the day prevents his dream from becoming a reality.

Sadie doesn’t understand Jack’s obsession with becoming an Englishman. While he annotates and updates an information sheet given to the couple when they arrived in England (it explains to immigrants how they should behave in order to blend in), Sadie does everything she can to hold onto her Jewishness, and her baking of cakes and cooking of traditional Jewish dishes helps her to cope with her sadness and to cling onto the increasingly blurry memories of her past. One day while reading the paper, Jack spots a notice offering a tumbledown cottage for sale; the land attached to it would be, Jack believes, the ideal place to build a golf course. Without telling Sadie he sells their London house and buys the cottage.

When she learns what Jack has done, Sadie takes the news rather well, considering; of course, it doesn’t matter too much to Sadie who can be sad anywhere but when she sees the cottage and contemplates the reality of living in the country she starts to thaw slightly. Jack embarks upon his project, trying to tame the landscape and mould it into a links golf course according to the designs of an American golf course architect, with whom he maintains a regular one sided correspondence throughout the novel. Jack sets an ambitious date for the grand opening of his course, on which day he hopes to hold an invitation tournament to be attended by the great and good of the region. But as he sets out to build his dream, he finds himself up against local planning laws, a belligerent local workforce, a bizarre rarely seen but much talked of woolly pig and the evils of homemade Dorset cider. Can Jack overcome these problems and open his golf course?

“…this is a pleasant and often humorous read that you can probably expect to become a much loved BBC drama.”

Natasha Solomon’s debut novel is an engaging read that goes deeper than first impressions would indicate. I found Jack Rosenblum an immediately likeable character; he might not be English, but he certainly possesses that air of eccentricity that typifies the hero of many a humorous English novel (he reminded me a little of the father in Marina Lewycka’s “A History of Tractors in Ukraininan” those Jack is a considerably more agreeable man). Jack is not without his faults, though; his single-mindedness and determination might come across as positive attributes but, immersing himself in his project, Jack fails to notice his wife’s sadness. Sadie is a complex and fascinating character, upstaged somewhat by her more colourful husband; Solomons paints a portrait of a deeply troubled woman who throws herself into her family in order to hide her true feelings but there are occasional flashes of the woman she could otherwise have been.

It is inevitable that the Rosenblum’s should come into conflict with the Dorset country-folk but it is interesting that the suspicions of the locals are not really based on the couple’s nationality or faith, just that they are city people, and ones who are involved in a very peculiar business at that. The villagers are stereotypical in a kind of “Darling Buds of May” way but the characters are engaging and not at all one dimensional. I loved the hint of low level lawlessness, more a championing of morality and “sticking it to the man” – in this case the local aristocratic landowner – than outright criminality.

Mr Rosenblum’s List contains few surprises but the writing is gentle and humorous and the characters are engaging. Natasha Solomons paints a heartwarming picture of life in a west country village but her portrait of war time London and its privations is equally convincing. At times Jack’s endless struggle to build his golf course threatens to overshadow the essence of the story, that of place and belonging. Jack may be the more immediately engaging character but Sadie’s struggle to maintain her sense of who she is elevates the novel. The descriptions of remembered foods and family get-togethers are really quite beautiful and poignant. Jack, too, in his own way, must come to terms with who and what he is. The men who eventually become his friends are not the type of gentlemen that Jack thought he might one day count himself among, but they are Englishmen all the same. Not until Jack understands that he must build a golf course that suits the land, and not try to carve out the one he thinks it should be, can he hope to be comfortable in his own skin.

A couple of minor flaws do little to detract from the undeniable quality of this enjoyable debut. The writing may be light and colourful but there are interesting themes under the surface, at times I felt that these ideas weren’t explored fully enough and if the author had been braver, she might have produced something with more impact. As it stands Mr Rosenblum’s List is a pleasant and often humorous read that you can probably expect to become a much loved BBC drama.

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Mr Rosenblum’s List: Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman
by Natasha Solomons

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Written by Mary Bor
Mary Bor

Aspiring travel writer and avid Yugophile living in the UK and Slovenia. Loves (in no particular order) Scandinavian crime fiction, Indian food, walking, scavenging, Russian dolls

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