Review: Vivien Horler
Mr Rosenblum’s List – Or friendly guidance for the aspiring Englishman, by Natasha Solomons (Sceptre)
You sometimes make delightful finds on the shelves of beach cottages. One I found on holiday this week is Mr Rosenblum’s List, published in 2010, and described on the cover as an international bestseller.
The Times shout says the book is “Hilarious and touching… prepare to be seriously charmed”.
The eponymous hero is Jack Rosenblum, a Jewish refugee who comes to Britain from Berlin in 1937 with his wife Sadie and infant daughter. When they land in Harwich they are presented with a blue pamphlet titled: “While you are in
England: Helpful Information and Friendly Guidance for every Refugee”.
The man who hands it to him, a representative of the German Jewish Aid Committee, advises that rule number one is to learn English. Rule number two is always to speak English in public – “even halting English is better than German”.
And so begins Mr Rosenblum’s study of how to be a perfect Englishman. He starts a business in London’s East End selling carpets, and eventually buys a carpet weaving factory.
Despite being interned for a brief time as an enemy alien, Mr Rosenblum harbours no grudges against England. He is released, and his factory prospers. He studies the behaviour of the English assiduously and keeps his English list up to date, discovering that proper Englishmen eat haddock on Fridays, and never draw attention to themselves. He takes Sadie to the opera and the theatre, and makes donations to charities.
But the final item on his list, number 150, is that an Englishman must be a member of a golf club. And Mr Rosenblum starts applying, only to discover no English club wants him. The final blow is when he applies to a club under an English pseudonym, to be told the club is open for new members, but when he applies under his own name he is told the membership is full. It hasn’t helped that he offered to recarpet the place for free, provided they accept him.
And then in 1952, the year Queen Elizabeth II ascends to the throne, he spots an ad in The Times: a cottage is for sale in Dorset, with 60 acres attached. Mr Rosenblum thinks, right – if no club will accept him he will build his own.
And so he decamps to Dorset with a reluctant Sadie in tow. He’s excited; she is, as usual, glum. Jack’s way of dealing with their past is to take on the future with enthusiasm; Sadie’s is to dwell. Driving to Dorset, he says to his wife: “Sadie, doll, try to be happy.”
He doesn’t understand: “I don’t want to be happy,” she says.
And so their new life begins. Jack throws himself into his project, Sadie cooks. She has her mother’s recipe book and she bakes cakes and Baumtorte, filling their home with alluring smells and memories.
Dorset is wonderful too, meadows and hills and honeysuckle and trickling streams. New friends introduce them to jitterbug cider, bluebells and the scary woolly pig.
But still there are people who are not on Jack’s side, still people who look at the little Jew and laugh at him and his pretensions. But Mr Rosenblum – Mr Rose-in-Bloom to his new friends – is a good man, and goodness has a way of working out.
This is a delightful read.