Pump Up Your Book tours for allowing me to be a part of this tour and experience this wonderful book!
Here is a summary of the book:
When young, brainy Bernie Cooper escapes the Nazis and ends up in New Orleans, he thinks at first that he’s landed softly, almost immediately finding love with Letty, not only a nice Jewish girl, but fifth-generation Southern upper crust. But suddenly, snobberies he couldn’t even have guessed at are set in motion. It seems Letty’s prominent Jewish parents hate him for being…too Jewish! The book is divided into 3 novellas.
Word on the streets of Stuttgart and around the hilfsverein is that this is the last possible time for Jews to leave Germany. It is late August of 1939, and Bernie Kuper’s mother still refuses to leave with him. Given no choice, with deep pain he tells her goodbye. In America, the Army takes Bernie through New Orleans, where he meets Letty Adler, a wealthy Jewish girl with all the privileges and education the Nazis stripped from him in Germany. It does not take long for Letty’s parents to show their contempt for this young man who carries with him his observant religious practices, thick accent.
Letty’s parents sabotage their new son-in-law’s effort to create a business in New Orleans. So their lives are filled with financial hardship, with pulling against each other, of Bernie wanting to move to New York, of Letty wanting to stay in New Orleans to prove her parents wrong. They have a daughter, Darby, and life gets more complicated. When Darby has to be taken to Charity Hospital, the Adlers’ shame opens their pocketbook if not their hearts. When his mother-in-law offers Darby a trip to Europe, Bernie says, No Germany.
Mrs. Adler has lied. A stop that is not on the written itinerary is Bergen-Belsen. The slip of paper on which the fate of Bernie’s mother is written–”Oswiecim” (Auschwitz) is still in Darby’s suitcase when they return. Bernie finds it, and he finally, finally explodes.
When Darby’s non-Jewish best friend leaves for boarding school, her life is defined by loneliness at school and a schism at home. She excels academically, and when the popular Jewish girls befriend her to study with her, Mrs. Adler is delighted. But jealousy and meanness build to a tragic pitch, and in the end lead to the destruction of all Bernie and Letty have tried to hold together.
This was such a wonderful story that draws on the events of WWII for one young man and blends it with his new life in New Orleans. We follow Bernie's emotional journey after he narrowly escapes Nazi Germany for a better life, only to leave his mother behind to a destiny he could hardly fathom. We see how the Holocaust effects Bernie and those that will become his support system in the United States.
Friedmann did a great job of breaking this story up into different sections of family members but still sharing the emotions of all that are involved. As the story opens we see what life was like for Bernie in Nazi Germany as he struggles with the decision to leave the only place he has known as a home. His mother is set in her ways and instructs Bernie to leave if that is what he desires, but she will stay behind because this phase of the war would certainly pass quickly. She was confident that things would return to normal before too long. When Bernie arrives in the United States he meets a friend living in New York and they embark on a business venture together. Since it is a new business and Bernie needs to find a way to make money he decides to join the armed services. He figures that he will eventually be able to help his mother by joining the Army.
The Army is what leads Bernie to New Orleans and to Letty. Bernie seemed to me to be a pretty Orthodox Jew as he recited Hebrew in the Temple, tried to follow a kosher diet (not always easy in the army), and always followed the rituals of the Sabbath Day. Meeting Letty and some other Jewish folks in New Orleans was quite a rude awakening as to how these people were living. I mean what Jewish mother in her right mind would serve pork for dinner?
Letty is a sweet girl that seems to be fully controlled by her parents. Bernie definitely throws off the entire plan that they have for her by winning her heart. As Bernie gives Letty a desire to live her life for herself rather than depending upon them for every need. When Bernie and Letty decide to start a life together they decide to stay in New Orleans, which happens to keep them under her parents umbrella. This is very frustrating for the young family as Letty's parents seem to find ways to keep them dependent on the finances they have available.
Letty's parents do not seem to realize how deeply the Holocaust has effected Bernie. As their lives go, on all Letty can do is watch his health decline as he inwardly punishes himself for not being able to do more for his loved ones that he left in Germany. She is in a continuous battle with her parents to try to prove that Bernie is a good man that will take care of their needs sufficiently.
When Letty gives birth to Darby that just seems to be the final anchor that her parents need to be able to control their lives. We see Darby's own struggles as her father tries to instill his Jewish traditions within her while Letty's parents are just trying to forget all of the rituals that go with their religion. They do have a very special father/daughter relationship as Bernie seems to be able to relate to Darby in such an honest way.
This was such a sad story as we watch what is like for Bernie to adapt to life in the United States while knowing what is happening to his loved ones in Germany. It would have been nice if his new in-laws understood Bernie's pain and accepted him lovingly into their family. This made for a tremendous amount of familial controversy, which was really hard for me to comprehend how people can be so selfish. With themes of the Holocaust, family, honor, and traditions, I found this to be an enjoyable but yet heart-wrenching book. I urge you to check out this trailer to see exactly what drove Patty Friedmann to write this book. After watching the trailer I feel like this story is even more significant to me. I believe that this book was written for the enjoyment of the Young Adult audience, but really any age group can learn from these pages.
My Rating: 4/5
Disclosure: This e-book was provided to me by Dorothy from Pump Up Your Book Tours. in exchange for an honest review.
You can check out more great book reviews over at Cym Lowell's Book Review Party Wednesday!