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Jenniemae & James: A Memoir in Black and White Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 30, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (March 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307462994
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307462992
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.7 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,518,502 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A mathematician, friend of Albert Einstein, and father of two employed an illiterate, numbers-savvy maid to take care of his affluent Washington, D.C., home, and an improbable friendship ensued. In this thoroughly engaging memoir, Newman, the daughter of James Newman, author of 1956's The World of Mathematics, wonderfully recreates the early Civil Rights era when the miraculous Jenniemae Harrington came into the family's lives and rendered their emotionally reticent, offbeat household more warmly human. Jenniemae was a large African-American woman from rural Alabama who lived with her sister in the Washington ghetto when she first came to work for the Newmans in 1948. She spouted folksy wisdom (e.g., Only a fool will argue against the sun) and gambled (with phenomenal success) on numbers that had occurred to her in her dreams. As James worked in his home office during the day, he learned of Jenniemae's daily numbers betting, although she refused to admit it was gambling (It's the Lord's gift, was how she explained it). Over the years, their endearingly antagonistic friendship deepened, and they managed to see the other through numerous crises (including Jenniemae's rape by a bus driver and James's marital and girlfriend grief). The author, as a keen observer growing up in this fraught household, absorbed the emotional ramifications of Jenniemae's presence, and fashions dialogue that is pitch-perfect. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Growing up, Newman witnessed how an amazing affinity for numbers formed the basis of an enduring and unlikely friendship between her father, a brilliant and erratic white mathematician, and Jenniemae, the illiterate black housekeeper who held their fragile family together through the 1940s and 1950s. This is not one of those noble stories of how a poor black woman rescues a dysfunctional white family, though there is plenty of dysfunctionality. James and Jenniemae respect one another’s abilities and rely on one another through life’s vicissitudes. James’ chronic womanizing threatens the family, while his egomania and his work with Albert Einstein and others to urge peaceful use of atomic energy during the 1950s threaten his career. His wife, Ruth, plagued with borderline schizophrenia and a tortured acceptance of her husband’s philandering, adds to a household where the children “saw too much and understood too little.” Newman is unsparing yet loving in this complex portrait of her father, author of the classic The World of Mathematics, and the woman essential to her childhood. --Vanessa Bush

More About the Author

BROOKE NEWMAN is the author of The Little Tern, a fable for adults that has sold more than a million copies worldwide.

Customer Reviews

A truly enjoyable read that I will be recommending to all of my friends.
Jack Langley
The author was trying to tie the two together, but doesn't quite accomplish that in this book because neither character appears fully developed.
MarvelousMarla
Brooke Newman has written a charming memoir of growing up in a family filled with, shall we say, true eccentrics.
Jill Meyer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By N. B. Kennedy TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Jenniemae Harrington came to work as a housekeeper for the author's family in its posh Washington, D.C., home in the late 1940s. In this warped household of lies and evasions, a friendship blossoms in an atmosphere of honesty and good humor between Jenniemae and Brooke Newman's father, James, a well-known mathematician who hobnobs with the likes of Albert Einstein.

The author ties the two together through their love of numbers -- James Newman's as a profession and Jenniemae's in her success with the lottery -- but the relationship is much deeper than that. At a time when most relationships between blacks and whites were fraught with antagonism and outright hatred, this one is based in mutual respect and genuine care for each other's well-being.

This is truly an inexplicable bond, beautiful in and of itself. Yet it is also tragic, as the author aptly portrays her tumultuous family life in all its remoteness and loneliness. Her father is dictatorial, suffers debilitating bouts of depression and courts an endless parade of mistresses, even moving them into their home at times. Her mother is angry and withdrawn, suffers from night terrors and migraines, but also takes lovers of her own and befriends her husband's lovers. The young Brooke, almost entirely unparented, suffers from what is presumably anorexia and trichotillomania, yet it is never addressed. (After one visit to the doctor when Brooke has pulled out huge clumps of her hair, her father buys her a bracelet and a stuffed animal, and that's that.) Yet whenever tragedy strikes Jenniemae, he is there to comfort her and ease her way with his time, attention and money.

Jenniemae is a refreshing and bracing presence in that household of stunted emotions.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"memoir in black and white."

The relationship between two persons, memoirist Brooke Newman's mathematician father, James, and their family servant, Jenniemae, both of whom played a big role in the life of the author, is probably worth the read; however, I believe that the overlying theme, that of an unlikely "friendship" between two number-lovers, overstates the case. Jenniemae Harrington, employed for years by the Newman family as a servant, is described as, "underestimated, underappreciated, extremely overweight...very religious, dirt poor...illiterate, uneducated, self-taught, extremely clever, and quietly cunning," while James Newman, Brooke's "brilliant" father is said to have been "a philanderer with an insatiable appetite for women and fast cars" who, "lost himself in abstruse mathematical theory and philosophical musings." Although the two formed a "unique" bond, it seemed more like a relationship born of mutual respect between employee and employer than a "friendship." James goes above and beyond the call of duty in accommodating Jenniemae's compulsion to play a numbers betting game, supports her immensely after an awful incident on a bus, and helps with a badly injured family member, while Jenniemae openly disdains his extramarital relationships in defiance of convention and helps him during a critical cardiac crisis, but these actions are exactly what one should expect of persons in such situations.

Learning about the life of these two individuals is generally interesting, as is the conspicuous backdrop of happenings in the States at the time (the development of the atomic bomb, McCarthyism, and the country's involvement in the Korean War), but some bits of the memoir verge on ho hum.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By D. S. HARDEN VINE VOICE on March 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I've just finished reading "Jenniemae and James." I found Brooke Newman's accounting of the relationship between her family and their maid as accurate and honest. No family is perfect - her's definitely was NO EXCEPTION. Ms. Newman focuses mainly on her Dad and the maid - effectively detailing their relationship during the time she worked for them. More importantly, how their relationship transcended their position(s) in the world. Without giving anything away, I will simply say, "Please read this for yourself and decide."

I think this book is worthy of a good read. I'm giving the book a score of "5 Stars."

Good job, Ms. Newman. Authors' usually find it difficult to detail their own family's history due to the personal pain that it often causes, but you did an admirable job in this effort. Your child's eye was obviously sharp, as you were able share many details of that time. I, for one, appreciate that!

Congratulations! May your other efforts be on par with this book!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By amazonbuyer on March 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The story is about the relationship housekeeper Jenniemae Harrington had with rocket scientist James Newman. Newman's mind was an incredible and restless force. He did so much good for the world on the big scale, but his home-life was was a galaxy spinning out of control. Nuclear physics had nothing on the volatility contained in the Newman home. But this was a volatility that the mind of Jenniemae was equipped to handle.

When Jenniemae Harrington began working for the Newman family it started a living American illustration of a "ying/yang" encounter. Two worlds met, but never overlapped or blended. They balanced and stayed side by side as long as the balancing was necessary and mutually beneficial. Even when worlds sometimes overlapped, the boundary lines never blurred or blended to create any permanently gray areas.

It was fascinating to see how one woman balanced the weight of an entire family and it's deeply rooted dysfunction. James Newman and his wife Ruth had an open, yet precarious relationship. They were both very self-absorbed and found twisted satisfaction in their love-hate relationship. Their love wasn't driven by mutual respect. Instead it seemed to be driven by some deep and undefined insatiable need. It was love on heroin.

James, Ruth, and Jenniemae were intriguing people. This fact, combined with Brooke Newman's voice, made it very hard to put this book down. As a child Newman developed the gift of invisibility, thus she is invisible throughout most of this tale. However, her invisibility gives an amazing depth to the stories of the three main characters. For though she is invisible, her voice is compelling and strong.

It is hard to write about parents and be objective.
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