Mr Rosenblum’s List: Or Friendly Advice for The Aspiring Englishman is a debut novel from a writer so new that she doesn’t even have a Wikipedia article to allow us to learn everything about her life in two minutes. But give it time, this lady is set to become famous. Rumour has it the Mr Rosenblum’s List had publishers squabbling to offer Natasha Solomon a deal, and queuing up to contract a second novel. So what’s that all about?
Jack, Sadie and their daughter Elizabeth are a young family of German Jews fleeing persecution by Nazis in their homeland. Arriving in London with a few suitcases and a small amount of money they are met by a member of the Jewish Refugee Committee who presents them with a pamphlet advising them on how best to assimilate to life in England.
Jack, a committed anglophile is incredibly grateful to the land and people that he sees as having saved his small family from a horrific fate, and sets about with steely determination to make himself a worthy Englishman and British citizen. However, becoming an Englishman is not as easy as the list would imply; especially when your wife resists Anglicization, no one will let you join their golf club and your every move is scuppered by a Dorset Woolly Pig… Soon Mr Rosenblum learns that there is more than one kind of English gentleman, and his pamphlet evolves from a helpful list to a detailed anthropological guide upon fitting into the strange world of the English.
Based in part upon Solomon’s grandparent’s experiences during the Second World War, Mr Rosenblum’s List is a charming mixture of family history, folklore and good old-fashioned story telling. Very often when you read books set during or related to the holocaust, it is the tragedy which understandably dominates the story, becoming a focal point which wipes out the bitterness of human experience in a deluge of history and statistics.
An immensely clever part of Solomon’s story telling was to allowing the character’s feelings to hint darkly at the memories of the holocaust and loss, but to focus on the human experience and highlight the loss of generations, of families of a culture and way of life through the guilt of the survivors and the ways that this manifests itself. The end result of this? A vision of hope.
In many ways, Mr Rosenblum’s List reminded me of The Wizard of Oz film. London is a monochrome city, grey and bleak, scarred by the war and haunted by the ghosts of those who were not so fortunate. Despite every effort by Jack, he cannot make himself the perfect English gentleman. His German accent and name give him away at every opportunity, and it seems that no one will let him belong. In contrast, Dorset is the strange Technicolor dreamland, the England of which Jack has dreamed, though like Dorothy he learns that beautiful new lands are not as welcoming as they first seem.
The story starts quietly, but rapidly gathers force and I soon found myself rooting for the indefatigable Mr Rosenblum who had initially irked me with his endless optimism and determination to affiliate himself with his new countrymen. The characters are vivid and real. It is rare that you read a book and become so wholly invested in the characters, and I wonder if this is in part due to Solomon’s memories of her grandparents and emotional investment in the story? Either way, the relationships between characters are beautifully imagined. By the end of the novel I had an overwhelming fondness for Mr Rosenblum’s sidekick Curtis, poacher, cider guzzler and last of the old Dorset men.
The descriptions of the food that Sadie makes are emotionally vivid, reminding me of Like Water For Chocolate. Food becomes a means of communication for women in the novel, and a reminder of the spiritual as well as physical nourishment that certain foods can provide. In light of this, I think that this book should be read while eating a Baumtorte, though you won’t be able to put the book down to make it. Don’t worry if you don’t know what a Baumtorte is, you soon will- the recipe is in the fascinating Author’s Scrapbook at the end of the book. Read it while eating a Baumtorte- the recipe is at the back of the book.
This is the best book I have read in a long time and I would bet my flat (albeit a rental property… but even if I owned) on this book being made into a film. It is such a beautiful story that undoubtedly some producer somewhere will have to cash in on it and strip mine it of its charm. Pray heaven that it is made in the UK. My advice is buy it now and read it now, so have the satisfaction of not being one of those who hops on the bandwagon when the adaptation comes along.