~~~ Introduction ~~~
Libraries . . . what fascinating places they are. My wife and I are members of the Jacob Gitlin Jewish library in Cape Town. We travel there in order to renew our books every five to six weeks. As one would expect, pretty much all the books in this library has something or other to do with the Jewish people, their origins, history, culture, land, language, etc., etc.
Both my wife and I are very interested in just about anything Jewish, mostly so, I think, because we are believers in the Elohim (G-d) of The Scriptures (Bible, if you like), who has chosen this people out of all the nations of the world to be the carriers of His message to a lost world, whether they like it or not. Sadly, more often than not, even more so today than at any previous time, they don't like it, at all. Believe me, I understand why, but it still remains the saddest thing to me.
Anyway, on one such visit to said library, a couple of months ago, to date, as I was searching for my next batch of books to read, my eye fell on this, rather, thick book entitled "Too Many Men", which I am now reviewing here. I recalled that I have noticed this book on the shelf on two or three occasions, before, during previous visits to the library, but every time I thought that the title was just "too weird" and the book also seemed way to thick to me, who is really not a fast reader.
On this particular day, however, I just had the strangest feeling that I should take this book out, which I, subsequently, did, and although it took me ages to finish reading it (for the reason mentioned above, not ever because I didn't thoroughly enjoy it), I have to say that it was a highly rewarding experience for me.
~~~ Narrative ~~~
Ruth Rothwax is a successful, middle aged, single modern Jewish woman who lives in New York. She is also the owner of a successful business, called Rothwax Correspondence, so she has no shortage of money. Other problems abound, however, problems like, a highly strung personality, the inability to form lasting relationships, especially with members of the opposite sex, scores of hang ups, ridiculous little habits and superstitions, various obsessions and the like, all of which makes her an extremely eccentric, bordering on dysfunctional, person. Someone who did a review of this same book on Amazon.com described Ruth as follows . . . (This is such an apt description of her that I just have to quote it here)
Begin quote < Ruth is a symphonic collection of tics, habits, rituals and agonies, an emotional land mine, filled with unanswered questions . . . > End quote
The interesting thing is that, unlike the majority of her kind, she not only realizes that she has serious issues, but readily admits it to herself. She also, correctly, discerns that these behavioral problems of hers are rooted in her childhood, growing up with an extremely traumatized and dysfunctional mother and a father who, al- though he loved her, never spoke a word about his or her mother's past. As a young adult she also had to deal with the trauma of her mother, Rooshka's, sudden death and with it the realization that she would now, very likely, never get to the bottom of her family's past and with the latter, a better understanding of who she really is. After she became financially independent, her father, Edek, with whom she actually gets on very well, moved to Australia where he still lives.
Although her parents never talked about it, in the end they were unable to hide the fact that they both survived the living hell that was the Natzi holocaust. As a thirty something Jewish woman living in New York, Ruth becomes convinced that this sole piece of information is, in fact, the key to unlocking every issue of her life. She spends almost every free moment she has to educate herself about the Natzis who were at the helm of Hitler's "Third Reich" and all the atrocities they committed, especially those who were involved in the so called "Final Solution" of Europe's Jewry.
She also goes on a trip to explore the old country, i.e. Poland, where her parents grew up and where entire generations of Jewish people, amounting to hundreds of thousands of beings, were systematically slaughtered by the Natzis between the years 1942 and 1945. She, however, soon realizes the impossibility of learning anything in this strange country and its people (the latter, especially, whom she dislikes from the start) without having her dad there with her, and so decides to return home fairly quickly.
Ruth is, however, determined to discover her family's past and so she plans another visit to the old country, this time inviting her dad to join her there on an all expenses paid holiday. The Jew in him quickly recognizes this offer as the bargain of a lifetime, although he tells her, outright, that he can think of much better holiday destinations than Poland. What he doesn't realize however, is just what she plans to get out of this deal, that she is on the quest of a lifetime to find out who she is and where she came from and that nothing is going to stop her, least of all the loss of even a considerable portion of her material wealth.
Will this trip with her dad bring her the answers she, so desperately, seeks? Will it bring her the healing in her life which she, inadvertently, yearns for? Well, this is now the place where I tell you that if you want to know the answers to these questions, you will just have to read the book for yourself. I'm sorry . . .
~~~ About the author ~~~
Lilly Brett was born in Germany and since 1948 she lived in Melbourne with her parents for some time. She married the Australian painter David Rankin and today they live in New York. Besides her books of fiction she also writes beautiful poetry, both genres, for which she have received major awards, like the New South Wales Premier's Award for fiction for her book "Just Like That" and the 1987 Victorian Premier's Award for poetry for her first book, "The Auschwitz Poems".
~~~ Writing style ~~~
Lilly Brett has an easy, uncomplicated and believable style of writing which, as far as I am concerned, leaves little or no room for any ambiguities, misunderstandings, uncertainties and the like in the text. Her writing is simplistic, but it is also extremely profound (in the sense of deep and meaningful), all at the same time. I thought it expedient to give you, the reader, a little taste of it by quoting the following excerpt from the book under review, i.e. . .
Begin quote < She got out another fifty Zlotys and gave it to the woman. The woman smiled. If she hadn't had so many teeth missing, it would have been a very sweet smile. The woman said something to her. "Nie mówie dobrze po polsku", Ruth said. Ruth could say "Nie mówie dobrze po polsku", I don't speak Polish very well, very well. It confused people. 'You have a perfect accent', several people said to her. If only she could say more in this perfect accent it would be useful.
The woman repeated what she said. Ruth shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. She had no idea what the woman was saying. The woman repeated herself, slowly enunciating each word. It means "too many men", a young man passing by said to Ruth. She is saying to you, you have too many men in your life. Ruth laughed. Too many men . . . She didn't have any men in her life. The gypsy woman looked agitated. She stabbed the air with her finger and repeated what she had said.
'She says that you have too many men in your life', the young man said. 'These gypsies are psychic', he said. They have a God-given psychic power.' Ruth was irritated. Why were Poles so fixated with God? 'God-given?' she said. 'If there is a G-d, He could have given them food and shelter.' > End quote
~~~ My thoughts on this book ~~~
The characters Lilly Brett uses in this book are real and true to life. They were created for the narrative, to give life to the latter, so to speak. There is no overload of them either (as is the case in some books), so that the reader can, easily, keep track of them all, so to speak. They are also beautifully developed within the nar- rative as the latter moves to its consummation.
I absolutely loved the character of Ruth's father, Edek. Even as I was busy reading the book, I was saying to my wife . . . "You just have to read this, my love, because Edek is exactly like Brian", (her ex husband), whom we still see, fairly regularly, and who is a Jew (a Levite, to be more precise) with exactly the same man- nerisms as Edek. It is almost unreal in its reality, if this makes sense to you, at all.
The author's excellent ability, within the text, to, almost subtly, emphasize the healing her main character (Ruth) needs, so badly, and yearns for, so desperately, reminded me of just how frail human life really is and how much we all need the Creator's healing touch in our lives. It, specifically, reminded me of the scripture in Hoshea (Hosea) 6:1 which says:
"Come, let us return to the LORD (YHVH in Hebrew, the Personal Name of the King of the Universe), for He has torn us, but He will heal us, He has injured us, but He will bind up our wounds.",
which, at the time when Elohim first spoke it, applied to the Jewish people, only, but today applies to all His people, everywhere, because of scriptures like Romans 11:17, 19 etc.
Suffice to say that I loved "Too Many Men" by Lilly Brett and think that it is, quite simply, an extra-ordinary reading experience. I heartily recommend it to anyone who can lay their hands on it. For a rating I feel obliged to give it a perfect 5/5, for stunning.
~~~ Other Details ~~~
Title: Too Many Men
Author: Lily Brett
First published in 1999 in Picador by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd, St Martin's Tower, 31 Market Street, Sydney.
Printed in Australia by McPherson's Printing Group
The book is available from www.amazon.co.uk at £ 9.99 for a new paperback copy. When I last checked on the Net (on the 30th June 2011) they had only 2 more copies in stock. I do not know if it is available in digital format; I cannot see why not.
~~~ Personal Comment ~~~
A couple of years ago, to date, I took some private Modern Hebrew classes with a Polish Jewess by the name of Judith, who lived in Cape Town, at the time, and also taught the language there at a the big Jewish Middle School. She told our class that her mother, who also lived in the city, at the time, was an inmate in one of the Nazi camps (Treblinka, if I can remember correctly), which she miraculously survived.
Every five days or so, she picked her mother up to go and do her shopping at the supermarket. This is where things got really weird. Her mum would absolutely insist on buying two of everything she had on her shop- ping list, which was all the more aggravated by the fact that Judith had to foot the bill. She apparently tried a couple of times to change her mum's mind about this compulsion of hers, in the supermarket, which led to some terrible outbursts, there and then. Can you imagine such a thing? Can you just imagine it? I felt such compassion for Judith on the day she told us this . . .
Woman like Judith and Ruth in our book "Too Many Men" are called "second generation holocaust survivors". Judith told our group of Hebrew students that the modern State of Israel now recognises that it is as vital for said second generation survivors (of which there are thousands living in that country today) to receive government sponsored counselling as it is for the actual survivors of the Natzi death camps. The former need the counselling in order to "handle" the actual survivors correctly, because incorrect handling of them, will, more often than not, lead to some kind of unacceptable social behaviour, just like the public outbursts mentioned above.
Unfortunately for dear Judith there is no such thing as government sponsored counselling for actual holo- caust survivors in South Africa, never mind second generation survivors like herself and there was no way she could afford private counselling for herself. I am not sure if she managed, in the end, to scrape enough resources together to afford private counselling for her mum, but it was clear to me, at the time, that she desperately desired it for her.
Thank you for having taken the time to read this review of mine through. I trust that you have benefitted somewhat from it.