Book Review | Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English
Author: Natasha Solomons
During the last waves of World War II, Jakob Rosenblum and his family go to London as refugees. Upon arrival, they are handed a pamphlet entitled Helpful Information and Friendly Guidance for every Refugee, which will teach them how to become proper English folk. For the next 15 years, Jakob–now Jack–devotes his entire existence to becoming an Englishman. His wealth as a carpet manufacturer provides him with the income to buy a Jaguar and Savile Row suits, but there is one thing that Jack hasn’t yet been able to cross off his list. To complete his transformation from a German Jew into an Englishman, Jack must become a member of an esteemed golf club. However, no one will admit him. Frustrated and longing to fit in completely, Jack decides to build his own golf course.
As Jack follows his dreams of becoming an Englishman, his wife Sadie is reluctant to adapt to the English way of life. She still practices her old religion and bakes German recipes from the family cook book that has been passed down for generations.
Natasha Solomons’ debut novel, Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, has been hailed as “charming and very funny” by Paul Torday (author of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) but I guess I just failed to see the humor. I can agree with Torday that it is something of a fable, but overall the message is totally depressing: if we try hard enough to be someone that we are not, eventually we will be accepted by the others, who fail to appreciate anyone who is different. To some degree, every person has a little bit of Jack Rose in them and the desire to fit in. But the lengths to which he went to be accepted by society were heartbreaking. Caught in the middle of it all was Sadie, who went for decades on the back burner, never complaining, while Jack pursued his dream of building a golf course, nearly bankrupting them in the process. It was probably wise of Solomons to minimally show readers Sadie’s point of view; if she’d been a more prominent character, this book would have been very dark indeed.
Though I didn’t quite like what I felt the message was, Solomons does have some charm to the way she writes. I loved the quirky characters like Curtis and Basset, who weren’t proper English gentleman, but showed Jack what true friendship is all about.
I wish that Solomons had focused a bit more on Jack’s family and how they adapted to life in London. At the beginning of the story, Jack and Sadie have a young daughter. The pacing of the book is very uneven, and the first 15 years of their life in England are over after the first or second chapter. I would have enjoyed seeing Elizabeth grow up in England, not having the struggles that her own father does with his peers. Unfortunately, her childhood and upbringing are only brought up sparingly, and she herself only makes a few short appearances throughout the book.
Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English may appeal to book club audiences; I felt there was a lot that could be discussed, and though I don’t consider it a favorite book, I think that many could learn a valuable lesson from Jack’s life mistakes.
*I received a copy of this book to review but I was not financially compensated in any way. The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my observations while reading this book.*