This book, written in two
quite distinct parts, documents a child’s immigrant life in New York in the
first section, and imagines his mother’s wartime life in the second. I
particularly enjoyed the childhood memoir in which there were memorable
‘She had calves as big and
smooth as bowling pins, and she always sat on the sofa with her legs to one
side as if glued at the knees, and smelled sweet and sad, like a dusty pastry.’
‘He had a square block of a
head silvered by stubble and ears like miniature lettuces’.
The author has a masterly way
with words and a melodic style.
The second part I found more
problematic. A son writing about his mother’s sexual encounters did not sit
easy with me, though I fully understand his need to try to find the cause of
her deep unhappiness with life. Despite these misgivings, my interest was held
to the end.
I think the most fascinating
aspect of this book is the description of the life and experiences of the Czech
refugees in New York in the late 1940’s. The author skillfully draws us into
his childhood. We find ourselves in a somewhat alien environment which is of
course normality for the child.