Monday, January 31, 2011

In which I express some fondness for 'Mr. Rosenblum's List'

Solomons, Natasha. Mr. Rosenblum's List. London: Sceptre, 2010.

Mr. Rosenblum's List is a treasure of modern fiction, and my favourite book read this month (January 2011). It moves at a gentle pace, but not a dull one; Solomons not only studies the character of her protagonist, but portrays common human expectations for friendship, family, and marriage (all the while examining, most closely, the ideas of citizenship, nationality, and belonging).

Mr. Rosenblum is a German Jew who immigrates to London with his wife Sadie during World War II. Upon arrival, he is given a list of 'Helpful Information and Guidance for Every Refugee,' which he supplements and annotates over the course of Solomons' novel. From almost the first moment of his arrival, Mr. Rosenblum (Jack) embraces his new life, striving with his entire might to become an English gentleman, while Sadie is lost in a world of memories and the past. These conflicting attitudes towards life, of course, contribute to the unique temporal explorations in the book: Jack is forever exuberant about the future, Sadie bemoans the forgotten past, and somehow, sadly, they are too often too busy with their disparate unrealities to dwell in the present, together.

Even as it explores some tremendous themes, Mr. Rosenblum's List also manages to be endearingly funny. Solomons' characters are likeable and sympathetic, and she manages to remind us that despite cultural differences and personal eccentricities, we are all, at heart, human. Mr. Rosenblum's desperate desire to become a genuine Englishman is, in many ways, reflective of the general human desire for community, and the specific determination with which he pursues his favoured community serves also as a reminder that community can often be found where we humans least expect it. Overall, this book is both deep and funny, the characters appropriately idiosyncratic and well-crafted, and the story well-written and fun and easy to read. So far, it's the best book I've read all year.

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