By Natasha Solomons
When David Cameron’s Jewish great-great-grandfather, Emile Levita, pitched up in Britain from Germany in 1850s, he wasted no time in transforming himself into a proper English gentleman. He bought a grouse moor, married out, and sent his four sons to Eton. The redoubtable hero of Natasha Solomons’s delightful debut novel has similar ambitions, but encounters a number of weird and wonderful obstacles along the way, including a giant woolly pig.
Jack Rosenblum and his wife, Sadie, are refugees from Nazi Germany. Their responses to the challenge of being strangers in a foreign land could not be more different. While Sadie clings to the past, hoarding memories of the people and places she has lost, Jack is determined to stride into the post-war future looking, speaking and behaving as much like a native Englishman as he possibly can.
To this end, he never speaks German, gets his hats made at Lock’s, buys his marmalade at Fortnum and Mason, and keeps careful note of English customs and habits. The pinnacle of his aspirations is to play golf.
But Jack, however patriotic, is still a Jew and he soon discovers that however many strings he pulls and shmeers he offers, no club will have him. So what does he do? He dusts off his chutzpah, moves to Dorset and sets out to build a golf course all of his own. Which is when the woolly pig makes its first appearance — or does it?
It is a long time since I have read a book as charming as this. There is a beguiling sweetness and simplicity to Solomons’s writing, yet the story is shot through with just enough darkness to keep it from becoming saccharine. Sadie’s struggle to keep the past alive even as time is tugging it away from her is both moving and tragically understandable. The antisemitism Jack encounters is genuinely nasty. The prejudice and snobbery he meets with are convincingly cruel. And even Jack’s zeal for Englishness is tested when he discovers his daughter, Elisabeth, has quietly changed her name from Rosenblum to Rose.
But these are fleeting shadows over the sunlit hills of rural England. Mr Rosenblum’s List is at heart a wholesome, old-fashioned comedy of manners, both Jewish and English ones, and the odd combination of the two that we Anglo-Jews are so very good at, now as much as ever.
Rebecca Abrams’s latest book is
‘Touching Distance’ (PanMacmillan)