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Golden Country: A Novel Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (September 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743288637
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743288637
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,836,675 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

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

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Jennifer Gilmore's first novel, Golden Country (Scribner) was published in September '06 and in paperback (Harcourt) in 2007. The novel was a New York Times Notable Book of 2006, an Top Ten Debut Fiction of 2006, and a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Something Red, her second novel, was published by Scribner in Spring of 2010, and was a New York Times Notable Book. It was published in Paperback by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Spring 2011.

Her third novel, The Mothers, is forthcoming from Scribner in April 2013.

Jennifer received her B.A. from Brandeis University in 1992, where she majored in English and Creative Writing, and minored in Women's Studies. After college, she moved out to Seattle, and became the producer and host of the radio program, "Talking Fiction" on KCMU, and the Senior Book Columnist for The Stranger.

In 1997, she received an M.F.A. in Fiction on a scholarship from Cornell University. There, she was an editor at the literary magazine, Epoch, and went on to teach creative writing and literature. After moving to Brooklyn in 1998, she freelanced, and worked for The Leonard Lopate Show at WNYC (it was called New York & Company back then) and as the book club host for A& From 2001-2007, she worked in publishing, as the publicity director at Harcourt.

Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in magazines and journals including the Alaska Review, Allure, BookForum, the Lincoln Center Theater Review, Los Angeles Times, Nerve, the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Book Review,Vogue, SELF, Salon, the Stranger, Tin House, Vogue and the Washington Post. Her personal essays have also been included in several anthologies including More New York Stories: The Best of the City Section of the New York Times, The Friend Who Got Away, Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave and How to Spell Chanukah.

Jennifer has been a MacDowell Fellow, and has taught creative writing and literature at Cornell University, New York University, Eugene Lang College at the New School and at the 92nd Street Y. Currently she teaches at Barnard College and Princeton University and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Want more info? Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @jenwgilmore. Or please visit her author page on Facebook.

Customer Reviews

This book was a very warm and inviting read.
The characters were alive and well defined, and their complex stories and lives were imbued with real humanity.
Andrew F. Cyr
I hated to put the book down until I had finished it.
M. Lamm

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Wayne Rowan on August 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"For you," one of the characters in Jennifer Gilmore's debut novel tells his sons, "I promise you a golden country." And in the 1920s in New York, the possibilities America seems to offer its new immigrants truly do appear golden, endless. Joseph works as a door-to-door salesman, all the while slaving away in bathtubs at home, trying to invent the perfect cleaning product. Frances translates her neighbors' Yiddish letters into a new language - English - for them to send back to Europe for the family left behind. Meanwhile, Solomon falls in with gangsters, bringing shame to his family. All the while, babies are born, inventions are perfected, dreams slowly expand - with no less than Irving Berlin, the invention of the television, Mae West and the 1939 World's Fair as backdrops. With her meticulous knowledge of 1920s - 1950s American life and Grace Paley-esque gift for dialogue, Jennifer Gilmore has crafted a grand, glittering novel that is universal in its themes of family heartbreak, hope and redemption. Golden Country is the best, most seductive book I've read this year.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By J. Grattan VINE VOICE on December 7, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book follows the lives of the second and third generations of three Russian-Jewish immigrant families living in NYC from the 1920s to the 60s. The book does not attempt much in the way of a novel look at life for immigrants, nor are the characters all that compelling or well-drawn. In the first part of the book, the families live in crowded circumstances in a Brooklyn ethnic neighborhood, where everyone knows everyone else's business, mothers are obsessed with cleaning, and fathers work long hours, often peddling wares, with marginal success. The gold-paved streets thought to exist looked at from the distance of Russia do not, though compared to the pogroms escaped in Russia perhaps America is a paradise.

If the reader would think that humble origins, a lack of education, and lives overwhelmed with daily survival are obstacles to success, this author has a story for you. Joseph Brodsky goes from selling cleaning solution all over New England to creating an entirely new type of cleaning product in his basement. His brother Solomon escapes the neighborhood by joining the Mob and engaging in bootlegging - of course, he rises to the top. Seymour Bloom turns from selling encyclopedias to being an enforcer for Solomon to being a successful Broadway producer. Frances Verdonik has the good fortune to marry a Westinghouse engineer who invented the first crude television. Then, Joseph has the innovative idea of using television advertising for his cleaning products with neighborhood chum Frances being his on-camera spokesperson.

Of course the seaside cottages and high-rise apartments in the trendy part of town follow. The third generation kids attend prep schools and the Seven Sisters colleges.
Read more ›
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on September 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Goldene Medina, which is Yiddish for "Golden County," is a place an immigrant can escape to from the pogroms in Russia, Poland and Germany. A place of opportunity, where you don't have to live in a shetl and the world is your oyster. Author Gilmore follows the lives of three separate families that all have ties from growing up together in Brooklyn.

Joseph Brodsky is the creator of Essoil, a two-in-one cleaning ingredient. His brother Solomon was the first Jewish mobster to be imprisoned for his activities during Prohibition. He left behind his wife Pauline, whose sister Frances Verdonik married Vladimir Zworykin, the inventor of television. Lastly we have Seymour Bloom tethered in any unhappy marriage to an alcoholic, college-educated dreamer, Sarah. Seymour worked for Solomon, during a brief stint as a gangster, but got out of the business to produce Broadway plays.

During the course of the first fifty or so years in America, we see the triumphs and tragedies of the Jewish experience. We experience the anguish, despair-and thankfulness that these families missed the Holocaust, but could have easily been caught up in it. Gilmore's facts are accurate, albeit fictionalized, and she captures the immigrant experience in such a way that makes the reader believe they're living it too.

Even though there's bad blood between them, the Brodsky and Bloom family are tethered together again when David Bloom marries Miriam Brodsky, and they have to navigate the terrain of 1960's America while living with the accomplishments, guilt and experiences of their parents. The twist ending is an excellent denouement to Golden Country.

This is an excellent book about the Jewish immigrant experience in America.

Armchair Interviews says: This historical fiction is a wonderful, can't-put-down read!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By PEZ Denver on September 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Jennifer Gilmore's first novel is a stunning debut. From start to finish, Golden Country draws the reader into the inter-twining lives of the Bloom, Brodsky and Verdonik families, first and second generation Jewish immigrants raised in the "golden country" of America. Gilmore has developed brilliant, complex characters - ranging from tragically comedic Sarah, an alcoholic full of regret of how her life turned out, to Francis, the larger-than-life go-getter who doesn't let her "frumpiness"" get in the way of success.

Gilmore skillfully utilizes humor, tradegy and American history to weave her story. You will laugh out loud, cry and in the end, wish for more of this wonderful novel.
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