Monday, September 20, 2010

Carolyn Recently Finished {Farewell Leicester Square}:

Farewell Leicester Square (1941 by Betty Miller) is my first, and much anticipated, purchase from Persephone books {blog post here} in London. It really lived up to my expectations. I can't say it was one of those couldn't-put-it-down, finished-in-one-sitting, edge-of-your-seat sort of books; it was more like a warm cup of tea at the end of a long day or a well-worn in blanket - comforting read. It also didn't give much away - it was a story, not one with risky rising and dramatic falling action, but a life story that was written out in a nice, respectful manner. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the story, the writing was superb {a true novel!}, and the print/construction of the book itself was lovely {I can't wait to purchase another book from them!}.

{Betty Miller, author}

Farewell Leicester Square follows a Mr. Alec Berman from his Jewish family in Brighton, England to celebrity among film stars & directors. However, his career path & subsequent marriage to a non-Jew causes problems with his family. We don't hear much of them {unfortunately} for most of the story, but their presence was felt throughout. Alec's marriage to a very WASPy woman {Catherine} was really the most interesting {it was the central plot} part of the story for me. It was intriguing to see how beige & rainbow -so to speak - would mix. The novel takes place right before WWII, so anti-Semitic feelings were high & Alec's tension between whether he should feel English or Jewish & why not both were thought provoking.

While the story was set more than half a century ago, much of its themes are still extremely relevant today {racism, mixed marriage, acceptance from family, etc}, just replace Jewish with whatever type of person you want -gay, black, female, disabled, etc when reading this quote {I think it might be particularly interesting with all the protests for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell today}:

"Let me try to explain," he said at last. "Look." He stopped in front of her. "You've never, have you, Catherine, felt intensely gratified, happy, if someone happened to mistake you for other than what you are? Have you?"

"No, of course not." She was slightly at a loss.

"You've never had to...You don't know either, what it feels like to walk about on earth that doesn't belong to you, speak a language which isn't really yours (although you know no other): live every second of your life among people who at best tolerate you: be dependent for life itself upon those people...You haven't - you can't possibly have - the slightest conception of the perpetual uneasiness in which a Jew lives - the terrifying lack of security: the sense that all one has yearned and striven for (the every-day happiness which any human being is entitled to) is entirely at the mercy of politicians, is challenged by every hostile word, look, gesture...The sense that everything, Catherine, that a Jew builds, is built upon quicksands..." {page 142}

I quite appreciated Alec's general attitude of positivity as well, it didn't seem forced - it was his natural disposition to accept things as they came...calm perhaps?

"Nothing, Alec thought, nothing at all (not the greyness, not the rheumatism, not the denture bathing in the glass of water) would ever convince one that one's dancing days were really over..."

I highly suggest looking into this title, or others by Betty Miller or reprinted by Persephone, I'm thoroughly hooked!

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