Review: The Credit Draper

By Clive Sinclair, September 19, 2008

By J David Simons
Two Ravens Press £9.99

Papa Kahn, the paterfamilias who adopts a boyish refugee from Russia (though canny readers may suspect that he fathered him Over There), tells his new charge that he had originally intended to sail all the way to America, but liked Glasgow so much he stayed put. Scotland, he avows, is good news for Jews (perhaps that is why so many of us - the Grants, the Gordons, and the Sinclairs - are named to pass as Scots).

The year is 1911, and the lad who has just docked at Clydeside is named Avram Escovitz. Recording his arrival, debutant novelist J David Simons is nearly as wet behind the ears: trying too hard to evoke atmosphere, he writes how a whipped horse threatened passers-by with "clawing hooves".

But, having taken these first uncertain steps, both hero and scribe soon hit their stride. Before long, Simons is knocking off well-turned sentences and Avram discovers that, when it comes to football, he's a natural, as gifted as Patsy Gallacher, Celtic's quicksilver winger. If only soccer weren't played on Shabbos, Avram could have been a contender for his place, but it is and Papa Kahn puts his foot down.

Then war and the old man's heart attack occasion Avram's exile to Scotland's own Siberia - the Highlands. The local tzar who organises this transfer is a certain Jacob Stein. A pillar of the community, he is later revealed as a cut-price Meyer Wolfshiem, the gangster who fixed the 1919 World's Series in Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

Stein's demands are more modest; he does not want the world, merely that Avram take a dive in his opponents' penalty area during the young man's one big match.

By then, however, Avram has a grand idea of his own: waterproof clothing. The inspiration for which had been the flying machine of one Charles Sinclair (no relation); aviator and cad.

By the book's closing pages, Avram is sufficiently wealthy, and sufficiently well-grounded, to do what Papa Kahn had failed to do in Russia, and assume responsibility for one as yet unborn. At which point, the book takes an unexpected turn (which could also have come from The Great Gatsby), one that puts in question Papa Kahn's confidence in Scotland's philosemitism.

The Credit Draper is a rare evocation of an earlier genre: the immigrant novel. This tends to be one of two types: an examination of the immigrant's inner life and the changes wrought upon it by a new land and language, for example Henry Roth's Call it Sleep; or a bildungsroman (such as Abe Cahan's The Rise of David Levinsky), in which the young hero gains the world but jeopardises his Yiddisher soul. The Credit Draper belongs in the second camp, adding a most welcome Scottish dimension.

Clive Sinclair's Tales of The Wild West is published by Picador

Last updated: 3:17pm, February 18 2011