Mr. Rosenblum’s List: Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman – Natasha Solomons

Jack wants to join a golf club, but at every place he is turned down. No matter how many times he applies and no matter how successful he is, it is no good. The reason is because he is Jewish. But Jack knows what it is to be an Englishman, he has stuck faithfully to the pamphlet he was given upon arrival some twenty years earlier.

Jack and his wife Sadie with their young daughter, Elizabeth  came to England in the 1930s, from Germany as Jewish refugees. They left behind everything and they cannot go back. When they land in this promised land, they are given a pamphlet which shows them what they need to do to become ‘English’. Jack takes this as the gospel and follows all points, along the way adding a few more. It is at this point after being a succesful businessman, he wants to be able to join a golf club; that to him is the final success to become the epitome of an Englishman. If they will not have him, then he will build a golf course, a simple plan, but flawed in so many ways.

Sadie does not want to move from the city, down to the depths of the countryside,  in Dorset. Away from what she has grown used to in twenty years, where she can still be part of the Jewish culture.  But she goes, and Natasha Solomons shows a very fragile woman, who is at the point of a breakdown in my opinion, watch as her husband forges ahead with a  very foolhardy plan. Sadie finds solace in the countryside and cooking which brings to life her past and suddenly a future seems possible.

The golf course, starts and stalls, the help comes and goes, and the locals begin to take Jack and Sadie into their small little community. But like all communities there are some who do not want to see success, especially from an outsider. And so the story changes and you have to keep reading to find out whether it all comes together in time for the Coronation, the time frame Jack has set himself.

A beautifully gentle book which I felt was so fragile whilst I was reading it, that the characters and the plot might break up in my hands. It is a book which makes you smile and cry, laugh and weep. It was interesting to get a perspective on a piece of history that I have read much about, and although this is borne in fiction here, research and thought has certainly gone into the plot. The details of the baking, the ramshackle house they live in, the beautiful countryside giving way to nature no matter how much interference there is from outsiders is in abundance in this book. I recommend it, especially in a year where we are very much focussing on all things ‘English’.

I have had this book on my kindle for a while, ever since I bought Natasha Solomon’s second novel The Novel in the Viola. Whilst searching for something to read next, I thought I would give this a try and I am so glad I did.

It feels like the right sort of book to be reading in Jubilee year as it reminds me of so much of Englishness, Britishness which is much around at the moment, the flags for sale for the Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics being in held in London, the anniversary of the birth of Dickens, the great explorer Scott of the Antarctic’s death 100 years previous, the ill fated voyage of Titanic, the advertisements for spending your holidays at home and not abroad and the sudden love of all things in the past with television period dramas such as Downton Abbey and the ilk. I digress. 

Many of the things on Mr Rosenblum’s list made me smile, as did his ways of blending in with the population. Listening to the weather forecast, hearing Betjeman speak on the radio, soda with your whisky, do not criticise the government (I do not think that this one applies nowadays!) the things we say and the way we speak

Jack still found the English manner of speaking most peculiar. They so rarely made absolute statements or asked you to do something but instead continually spoke in rhetorical questions – ‘would you?’ ‘may I?’- when what they truly meant was park here, wait there. They liked to give you the illusion of choice, when really there was none. 

And then there is the case when we apologise when some bumps into us? When it is all laid out like this, it is a wonder we have not all lost our marbles and become gibbering wrecks in the way we go about our lives!

I do wonder what we should have on the list now if there ever needed to be? Make sure you have an opinion on whether you watch The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, The Voice, Dancing on Ice, Strictly Come Dancing without one, you could find yourself with no one to talk to at the drinking fountain. It is okay to criticise the government, in fact it is almost expected. If the Prime Minister says buy some petrol to keep topped up in case of a strike, we should assume he knows what he is doing? Oh and queuing that surely has to be on the list, if someone jumps the queue, remember to stand and mutter but not actually speak up and say anything.

I have digressed yet again (another one for the list perhaps?) but I really did enjoy this book, it was as I have said and many more reviewers very gentle. I am hoping that her second book is just as good and I looked forward to picking it up from the shelf.