Jennifer Gilmore's work has appeared in several magazines and journals, but Golden Country
is her debut novel, and an auspicious one it is. Gilmore's story follows the lives of three immigrants from the 1920s to the '60s in New York: Joseph Brodsky, a door-to-door salesman; Seymour, a salesman who trades in his cases for guns and glamour; and Frances, unsinkable, not too beautiful, but determined to know success. Their lives are intertwined, partly by proximity when they were young, and, when the novel opens, by the engagement of Joseph's daughter, Miriam, and Seymour's son, David. These three people live the story of America at that time: the impact of Kristallnacht and the camps on the Jewish population, World War II, depression and new prosperity, airplane travel, and television. It's a time of enormous change and growth, great sadness, and undreamed of wealth.
Joseph's brother, Solomon, leaves the Brooklyn neighborhood and becomes "The Terrier," a notorious gangster, much to the shame and heartbreak of his family. One of the recurring metaphors of the book is cleaning--Joseph's wife Esther is compulsive about cleaning her house and Joseph, who sells cleaning supplies, thinks about cleaning up the world, or at least that part of it that his brother has sullied. Joseph eventually invents Essoil, named for Esther, which is a dual-purpose cleanser that makes his fortune. He also conceives of the idea of advertising his product on television, and Frances is his spokeswoman--plain, earnest, and believable.
Seymour is involved with The Terrier's nefarious schemes for a time and then leaves that life to become a Broadway producer, hobnobbing with Irving Berlin and other notables of the day. His wife, Selma, is profoundly disappointed in her life, hates her husband, ignores her children, takes to drink, and fades away into dementia. Hers is a very sad story, one of misplaced expectations and one-way choices.
Frances's older sister, Pauline, runs away to marry The Terrier and is dead to her family from that time forward, except for a few encounters with Frances. What Pauline does with her life, in terms of a career, is one of the great surprises of the novel. Frances, who writes letters for people who cannot write English, meets Vladimir Zworykin, an actual historical person, who invented the Kinescope. Frances always says that "he invented television" and she isn't too far wrong. Her dream is to go to California, land of movies, swaying palms, sunshine, and convertibles... much like the dream of many mid-century American girls.
Gilmore has captured magnificently the texture of the Jewish immigrant experience: the terrible disappoinments, delusions and disillusions, the ambition, hard work, family life, success and failure, compromises, sacrifice, and the limitless hope offered in this Goldene medina, this golden country. She has written with wit, great care, meticulous research, understanding, and love. --Valerie Ryan
In a powerfully moving and ambitious debut, Gilmore follows the lives of three immigrant families, the Brodskys, the Verdoniks and the Blooms, who all begin their American journeys in shtetl-like Brooklyn and end up somewhere unexpected between the 1920s and the 1960s. Struggling door-to-door salesman Joseph Brodsky invents Essoil, the world's first two-in-one cleaner, and makes his childhood friend Frances Verdonik—whose husband, Vladimir, invents the television—its first TV spokesperson. Meanwhile, Joseph's brother, Solomon Brodsky, works his way up through New York's Prohibition-era underworld to become a powerful bootlegger known as the Terrier. When he marries Pauline Verdonik, Frances's sister, and draws Seymour Bloom, whose son eventually marries Joseph Brodsky's daughter, into organized crime, the lives of all three families are inextricably linked. Gilmore's large cast allows her to take a panoramic look at the period of intense change spurred by waves of immigration and the television, which brought celebrities and products into living rooms throughout America. She also delves into the daily goings-on in three generations of families as they are forged in the 20th-century crucible. Talented and compassionate, Gilmore is a writer to watch. (Sept. 5)
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