I really do think a book resonates because of what you are seeking or feeling or intrigued about at the time. Or it unlocks something you didn’t even know you were storing.
(Confession two: I seldom feel compelled to write book reviews but this one grabbed me by the throat.)
Strangely enough, this book, The trouble with my aunt, was not one that I intended reading at the moment. But somehow, when the Jewish Literary Festival was cancelled, along with so many other literary events, I was fortunate enough to have picked up a copy of this book.
And I have loved every single minute of it. Even prolonging the end because I wanted to savour it for longer. I hope I can do it justice here:
At the centre of novel is Leah, who has always been intrigued by the condition of her aunt Vi, her mother’s sister, who presented with habits and traits of a person who most of us would have described as ‘mentally challenged’ or ‘disabled’ but not quite known exactly why. But when Leah’s casual encounter with a work colleague, Steve, in a steamy start to the novel leaves her pregnant, Leah’s quest to understand her family history really begins.
The story is carried by a perfect pace with easy dialogue and characters are simply all lovable, including the awkward and flat-footed aunty Vi who repeats herself constantly and delights in her weekly visits to have her hair permed and addresses any object of her affections as ‘Toozazee’. The bond of family is the overriding theme: between mother, daughter, and the matriarchal glamorous granny Sadie, but also between mother and her new-born son. And then of course, how to deal with the troubles of Vi.
And then there are other delightful characters like Granny’s best friend Lily Gerber, who I wished I’d known but who we all have somewhere in our midst, I think.
But I also have to mention the Yiddishms which punctuated this story: the fahribbels, the Meshuggehs, and the chalisching which goes on amongst people who are generally identified by their unfortunate schnoz’s! (And you’ll have to read the book if you don’t understand these!)
Perhaps it was the recollection of giving birth which is described in such heart-warming honesty, or the eating habits she mentions in her descriptions which I recalled in my own home- the half grapefruit and kippers for breakfast,- or the fact that Toozazee is close to the nickname of my own mother (Toozie) amongst so many in our family, but I honestly think it goes far deeper than that.
Because in fact many of us know people like Vi, and we really have no idea how families have dealt with the repercussions or family dynamics that these special individuals bring.
I can highly recommend this book. Start by looking carefully at the beautiful cover of self-drawn images by the author and then open and enjoy. I wish I could start all over again.
Perhaps Gus Silber says it best… ‘it grabs you by the heart and never lets go’.