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by Anne Roiphe

Pub Date: June 19th, 1991
ISBN: 0-671-66754-8
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

 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.