Crafted like memoir, this fictional version of an immigrant’s journey brims with familial affection and spiritual yearning.
Abe Rutkiewicz is 8 years old when his family makes a stealthy flight from their Polish shtetl to cross the Atlantic. The year is 1901, and rumors of pogroms had driven Abe’s father to find a better life in New York. Reunited in Brooklyn, the newly renamed Roth family settles into adjusting to immigrant life: living in tenements and poverty, adapting to a rapidly changing world and sacrificing comfort so their children can realize the family’s dreams. Pickar describes Abe’s journey from childhood to adulthood in meticulous detail, and there’s little here that is revelatory. But the portrayal of this loving family’s steady rise to success is so gentle, and at times lyrical, it’s like being wrapped in an heirloom quilt: There’s a bit of must, but there are also the smells of Grandmother’s cooking and the softness achieved by the passing of time. Yet this is not simply another immigrant tale. When Abe’s trajectory follows that of the American Dream—college, Navy research during World War II, marriage and children, a college professorship—the novel turns toward his spiritual journey. Early on, Jacob Roth’s rigid orthodoxy turns his Abe toward mathematics and science and, as he became more fluent in the philosophy of Spinoza and the nature of physics, toward the question of religion and its purpose. When asked what is the greatest mystery to a physicist, Abe responds, “why there is something, instead of nothing.” Contemplating the relationship between God and nature, Abe is drawn toward the Unitarian-Universalist Church, where he finds a harmonious balance of science and faith. Meanwhile, life goes on, babies are born, family members depart and an aging Abe and wife Rosie spend more time in nature, finding peace in the beauty of the Appalachian Trail. The ending is inevitable and yet still may evoke tears.
A thought-provoking, comforting story that will likely inspire readers to ponder their family history, their spiritual beliefs and even the universe.