The Book Of Memories
by Ana Maria Shua
Category: Fiction / General
200 pages; ISBN: 0-8263-1949-1
Rating: 8/10 (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Norman Goldman
The following review was contributed by:
Memory has a way of playing tricks with the human mind. Some facts are blurred, some are clear, some simply vanish! This is one reason I found the first half of The Book of Memories a difficult read. However, as memory often does, when prodded, the second half of the book sustained my interest until the very end.
It is the story of Gedalia Rimetka and his family, as narrated by two unknown protagonists. According to the publicist, the protagonists are Aunt Judith and Aunt Clara. Unfortunately, this never crystallized in my mind.
One individual may interpret his or her souvenirs one way, while another has a completely different take on things.
Gedalia Rimetka came to Argentina from Russia at the beginning of the 20th Century and established himself as a peddler, moneylender and drapery salesman. Gedalia, who lived in a big house that becomes a massage parlour after his death, is depicted as controling and stingy, as he doles out money to his wife, Granny and his children.
The couple have two daughters, Judith and Clara and two sons, Silvester and Pucho. One of the daughters, Judith, is a soccer enthusiast. Against Gedalia’s will, she marries out of her faith, and has a daughter Lilian, who changes her name to Selva, when she becomes a Peron activist.
Another daughter, Clara, marries a Jew and tries to live up to Gedalia’s expectations. She bears two sons, one unfortunately is born with Down Syndrome, who evenutally dies at a young age. Her other son Sylvester is the successful son we all love to hate. He is also a seducer of young girls and eventually he marries a Turk for convenience and money.
Pucho is the schemiel (poor soul)younger brother who is twice married. Tragedies visit Pucho, as his second wife suffers from cancer and undergoes several operations. His fiberglass business is lost in a fire and his insurance company refuses to honor his claim.
After disappearing for sometime, he returns to The Old House, that has now become a massage parlour and dies in the hands of a whore.
The author’s zestful writing style that incorporates a great deal of black humor enhances the bickering sequences of events. Characters are believeable. You hate Silvester but you feel compassion for Pucho. Ms Shua’s biting humour often conceals a very sensitive heart, as demonstrated in the chapter pertaining to Clara’s baby.
Noteworthy about the book is that the reader vicariously experiences life of a Jewish immigrant family in Argentina during the era of Peron. Soccer, the fear of the Peronist era, and the emancipation of women are explored. As for religion and the language of the old country, they are almost forgotten. Judith marries out of her faith, and Granny is the only one who dresses up for the holiday, because she feels compelled.
The last chapter the author surprisingly discloses that the book was a work of fiction. We are now left with some guesswork if the story in fact was grounded in truth. She further reveals that her ancestry originated from the Middle East and not Russia.
A good read requiring a great deal of concentration.
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