A WOMAN'S WAY: The Memoirs of Flora Solomon by Flora & Barry Litvinoff Solomon
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A WOMAN'S WAY: The Memoirs of Flora Solomon

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Russian soul, Jewish heart, British passport"": the remarkable life of Flora Solomon, from brushes with Rasputin to catering at Marks & Spencer and much, much more--as recalled, in a totally unsentimental, sharply amused manner, by Solomon herself at 88. Daughter of a nervy Jewish entrepreneur who made a fortune in oil and mining circa 1900, Flora Benenson grew up in Baku and St. Petersburg--where great wealth could never quite fend off reminders of legalized Russian anti-Semitism. (When Rasputin wanted funding for private newspapers, powerful Papa was suddenly impotent: ""I am a Jew, the man could finish me."") But Flora's life soon become wildly cosmopolitan: schooling on the Rhine, away from unaffectionate, social-climbing Mother; when an angry mistress threw acid in Father's face, Flora accompanied him to Germany for treatment, then on to London during WW I--where she became a ""butterfly,"" on the fringes of both complacent Anglo-Jewish society and Zionist ferment (as driver/companion to Mrs. Chaim Weizmann). From the former group came Flora's husband: Col. Harold Solomon, a virtual stranger who didn't share Flora's Zionist/leftwing leanings (though he served in Palestine) and became an in-name-only spouse when he was crippled in an equestrian accident. So Flora, on her own, began an affair-at-first-sight with Alexander Kerensky in N.Y.--""emotionally intricate and geographically wearisome,"" ended when Kerensky insisted on marriage. (""I feared the tedium of the politician passÉ."") Then, a cataclysm: Papa Benenson, who somehow preserved his fortune through the Revolution, lost it. . . so his daughters had to go to work. And Flora promptly turned an idealistic notion (and a chumship with Simon Marks) into full-time employment: creating the Welfare Department for workers' fights and conditions at Marks & Spencer--devising corporate programs that, with WW II, became national ones. (The M&S canteen stew became ""blitz broth."") Throughout, Solomon's involvements touch on the broadest range of associations: her son's tutor just happened to be W. H. Auden (caught in bed with Christopher Isherwood); that son grew up to found Amnesty International; Kim Philby was a friend who betrayed Solomon personally as well as nationally. But she never once resorts to the breathlessness or pomposity that afflicts other I-knew-them-all memoirs--and this sardonic yet warm-hearted chronicle is both a crisp self-portrait and an unpredictable march through seven decades of Russian/English/Israeli issues and personalities.

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 1984
Publisher: Simon & Schuster