WINNER -- 2001 MPA -- "Excellence In Independent Publishing" Award
Engelhard, author of the best-seller Indecent Proposal, writes an anecdotal memoir relating the physical and emotional dislocation of his childhood due to the Holocaust and his family's escape from Nazi-occupied France. Rather than elaborate on the tribulations over the course of that escape, however, the author focuses on his family's inability to remain safely in one place and his father's incapacity to succeed in the new country.
The book consists of eighteen short anecdotes on what it meant for the author and his family to be poor, to be Jewish, and to be survivors. The voice is familiar and colloquial, giving the feeling of an oral tale, and the stories shift from watching the World Series on TV in a Montreal news and candy shop to the interiors of the Garment District.
Engelhard creates a central metaphor through his use of Jewish stories and symbols. He writes of his father as being steeped in Judaism and the Talmud. He is a man who argues at every synagogue in town, unable to understand why Jews, both in Canada and in the United States, fail to argue and question. Engelhard creates a parallel between he and his father and the way each chose to live their lives. The father returns to the Talmud to reason out his answers and the son turns to writing, stripping the situation from its detail to get to the real stories of fear, alienation, and familial love. Nevertheless, the book is, in many ways, a tribute to the faith and spirit of the father.
The memoir's true intention is realized in the final vignette --The Old Men and the Synagogue. Here, the author emerges fully cognizant of his relationship to his subject. He is now both a father and son, an American and a Jew. The identity that eluded him in the previous chapters is now intact, and that knowledge provides him with the authority to write clearly, concisely and movingly about understanding the continuity created by his belief. Life is the process of learning who you are,says Engelhard's father, a quote that best encapsulates the book and its project. --Foreword Magazine
... the refugee stories Engelhard preserves are boyhood memories of an almost Tom Sawyer character, albeit with ironic Yiddish twists adventurous, humorous, sometimes wonderfully strange. --Chris Leppek, Jewish News (Denver)
This book is a winner...to the child in each of us, living eternally...What makes me want to read Engelhard's books is the pleasant environment of his easy-flowing style, which percolates with a subtle sense of joy, possibly the result of his love of writing surging through every inspired or perfectly chosen word. --Author and Book Critic Linda Shelnutt
Jack Engelhard is a writer without peer and the conscience of us all. --Novelist John W. Cassell
From the Author
The only road still unmarked was this: the life of a child refugee.
This was terrain not well traveled, and so sketch by sketch I went ahead with this collection, motivated by no greater ambition than to its being a keepsake for my children. And once I got started I couldn't stop. It all came flooding back.
Yes, the children. It's so important for them (and their whole generation) to know--and to never forget.
The children must be made aware that the freedom they enjoy today in America--and too easily take for granted--comes with a responsibility to appreciate and respect the past.
Then comes the matter of anti-Semitism. To put it bluntly: It's still as pervasive as ever. I've spoken at enough college campuses to know that there are too many ministers of hate who have cleverly targeted the impressionable young and have gained a new world of adherents--among them blacks, whites, and even young Jews.
Thanks to them, I am convinced that for each Jewish kid growing up today, there's an anti-Semite to match. With some watering, they sprout like weeds.
And...who would have thought...that the greatest calculated massacre of all-time would produce, barely a generation later, an obscene legion of Holocaust deniers...people who say it didn't happen--just as there once were those who claimed that the earth was flat.
It was mostly for these reasons--that is, to wage against forgetfulness and the terrorism of lies--that the book's publisher, Rob Huberman--also a lover of words--encouraged the publication of this work, persuaded, as he was, that it possesses a universal message.
Maybe he's right.