Concerned as she has been with the unique psychic journeying of assimilated American Jews (``masked creatures,'' she calls them in Generation Without Memory, 1981), novelist Roiphe here shuffles shards and snippets from 30 or so lives in one Jewish American family (from 1878 to 1990) in their pursuits of happiness. Then, in teasing homilies to the Reader, and with the narrative distance of a recording angel, this becomes a testament to the universal writhings and struggles of all humans to survive as best they can. In brief encounters, members of the Gruenbaum family are visited and revisited as the author flips back and forth in time. In 1990, Hedy keeps a vigil for her wounded daughter in a Jerusalem hospital; and in 1878, pious Moses and more earthbound Naomi Gruenbaum leave Poland for America, where their son will know that Naomi's (stolen) diamond has more power ``to protect them all'' than his father's ritual garment. (``Reader, you forget that economics precedes religion; worship grew out of eating, not the other way around.'') Through the years and lives, individuals are buffeted by fate, make choices, know the bitterness of finding themselves merely ordinary. Pious, gentle men falter, and others rummage for the good life; there are happy, as well as unhappy, marriages; and women cope in shoddy tenements, in handsomely furnished New York City apartments (possessions, to the newly arrived, are ``signs of safety, a nod of God's head''), and in the stark heat of Israel—where, in 1970, another Moses will die in the desert, a victim of ``an enemy of the Jews.'' There will be murder, desertion, exploitations (the Roy Cohn portrait is memorable), but also acts of love and great courage. Still, however, ``family stories are not morality plays, although they are about morality....Perhaps we are all here to make good stories.'' Moving and innovative—an ethnocentric intuition of the genius of an American family. A special pleasure for Roiphe's following.

Pub Date: June 19, 1991

ISBN: 0-671-66754-8

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1991

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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