The sorrows and joys of a Romanian Jew who settles in Mobile, Alabama, early in the 20th century.
Morris Kleinman got used to pulling up roots at an early age—which may explain why he became so fond of the first place he managed stay put in for any length of time. Born in Romania to a family of pious rural Jews, he is forced to leave home as a child when pogroms deprive his father of a livelihood and the children are farmed out to relatives and sympathetic friends. Morris goes to live with a kindly Christian farmer, then eventually leaves Romania and makes his way to New York, where he meets his future wife, Miriam, in a Brooklyn deli. After their marriage, Miriam and Morris move to Mobile, and there, in 1907, Morris opens a general store. A port city with a sizable immigrant community, Mobile is fairly hospitable to outsiders, though there are occasional tensions between Morris and his overwhelmingly Christian clientele. Still, he’s happy in Mobile, making friends and raising four children there. Second-novelist Hoffman’s (Almost Family, not reviewed) tale is leisurely and somewhat meandering, following the small family dramas and local excitements with grace and sensitivity. Largely, it’s a study in character: Morris the small-town boy grown up as wily survivor; his nervous and fatalistic wife, Miriam; her ne’er-do-well brother Benny; and the two Kleinman boys, who both grow up to become classic, impatient, second-generation immigrant sons. At the close, in the late 1940s, Morris’s family is poised to move into mainstream Mobile society—which itself stands ready to change out of all recognition in the years to come.
A homely and unambitious tale that succeeds in part through its lack of pretension: an amiable and moving portrait of family life and small-town history.