Family talk, yards and yards of it--as Bermant (Now Newman Was Old, etc.), shedding much of his playful humor and searching...

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THE PATRIARCH

Family talk, yards and yards of it--as Bermant (Now Newman Was Old, etc.), shedding much of his playful humor and searching irony, presents the life of Nahum Raeburn (nÉ Rabinovitz) in a rather pedestrian narration. Coming from the tiny Russian village of Volkovysk to Glasgow in 1892, 16-year-old Nahum boards with chicken dealer Moss--whose family eats the less saleable fowl (""like living on boiled rope""). But later, after a dip into very minor moneylending, Nahum and his partner Goodkind launch a shipping-agent business which will lead eventually to a line ferrying Jews fleeing from Russia to Scotland. Nahum will always regret, however, that his ""fortune was based on Jewish misfortune""--and when lawyer nephew Lazar involves the company in WW I trading with the enemy, the business is ruined, forcing Nahum to start all over again. . . with cinema theaters. But the bulk of this book is concerned with Nahum's family and friends, seen in disarray or transition: sister Esther runs off with a lover, then marries an impecunious ""intellectual"" despite poverty in New York; lusty Aunt Katya introduces her nephew to sex; gentile Jessie, wife of Nahum's trusted clerk, will later marry Nahum's old friend from Russia; Arabella, daughter of Nahum's stepfather, is another sexy temptress; lovely American Lotie is Nahum's impossible love (because of her mother's disapproval); Miri, Moss' daughter, a widow with three children, becomes Nahum's wife; and among their shared offspring are a Palestine martyr, an actress who ""goes off her chump,"" and a rebellious daughter who'll be happy in Palestine. Through all the joyful and miserable reunions, virtuoso business deals and floundering glooms, Nahum remains a good, conservative, patriotic sort who leaves shtetl religion yet cherishes Jewish identity--and finally, after Miff dies, he'll marry true-love Lotie. A modest, easy-going dynasty novel; nothing deep or grand or as funny as Bermant's best British-Jewish entertainments--but more authentic and agreeable than many such sagas.

Pub Date: May 8, 1981

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1981