Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Day of Small Beginnings - Lisa Pearl Rosenbaum


A Day of Small Beginnings
Lisa Pearl Rosenbaum
Little, Brown and Company

Fiction

Itzik Leiber is only fourteen years old and living in rural Poland in 1906 when he comes across a peasant beating three Jewish boys. Itzik intervenes to protect the boys, but the altercation ends with the death of the peasant. Fleeing a mob, Itzik runs through a cemetery and ends up on the grave of Friedl Alterman, who died only the day before at the age of 83. Unknown to him, Itzik’s frantic prayers for help and deliverance from the mob awaken Friedl’s spirit, and she protects the boy. Itzik leaves the Polish countryside for Warsaw, and, eventually, the United States, where he begins his life anew.

Many years later, Itzik’s son, Nathan, an international law scholar, is in Poland as a guest of the government. He feels drawn to his father’s hometown, both by natural curiosity and through the still-protective spirit of Friedl. While there, he meets Rafael Bergson, the last Jew left in the area since the Holocaust. Rafael offers to teach Nathan about his history and heritage. Nathan learns from Rafael, but doesn’t understand the value in passing on what he’s learned to the next generation. Friedl’s soul is bound to the family, and unable to move on until they can release her. It seems that Friedl’s best hope for peace may come from Nathan’s daughter.

This amazingly rich debut novel can be read in many ways. There’s plenty of history in general, and Jewish history in particular to entertain fans of historical tales. There are supernatural overtones, given Friedl’s spirit and the way she helps and protects the family, but she takes a back seat for much of the book. It can also be read as a kind of non-preachy inspirational novel, or as character studies of the various characters. In the end, this is a lovely story of one family’s history, and the journey of each individual, and the ways in which heritage and the smallest acts can bind people together.

Rating: 8
November 2006
ISBN# 0-316-01451-6 (hardcover)

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