The Pursuit of Happiness: A Novel

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9780671667542: The Pursuit of Happiness: A Novel
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Five generations of the Gruenbaum family contend with a host of pressures as they immigrate to America, build an empire in the garment industry, and finally turn to Israel for identity

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From Kirkus Reviews:

Concerned as she has been with the unique psychic journeying of assimilated American Jews (``masked creatures,'' she calls them in Generation Without Memory, 1981), novelist Roiphe here shuffles shards and snippets from 30 or so lives in one Jewish American family (from 1878 to 1990) in their pursuits of happiness. Then, in teasing homilies to the Reader, and with the narrative distance of a recording angel, this becomes a testament to the universal writhings and struggles of all humans to survive as best they can. In brief encounters, members of the Gruenbaum family are visited and revisited as the author flips back and forth in time. In 1990, Hedy keeps a vigil for her wounded daughter in a Jerusalem hospital; and in 1878, pious Moses and more earthbound Naomi Gruenbaum leave Poland for America, where their son will know that Naomi's (stolen) diamond has more power ``to protect them all'' than his father's ritual garment. (``Reader, you forget that economics precedes religion; worship grew out of eating, not the other way around.'') Through the years and lives, individuals are buffeted by fate, make choices, know the bitterness of finding themselves merely ordinary. Pious, gentle men falter, and others rummage for the good life; there are happy, as well as unhappy, marriages; and women cope in shoddy tenements, in handsomely furnished New York City apartments (possessions, to the newly arrived, are ``signs of safety, a nod of God's head''), and in the stark heat of Israel--where, in 1970, another Moses will die in the desert, a victim of ``an enemy of the Jews.'' There will be murder, desertion, exploitations (the Roy Cohn portrait is memorable), but also acts of love and great courage. Still, however, ``family stories are not morality plays, although they are about morality....Perhaps we are all here to make good stories.'' Moving and innovative--an ethnocentric intuition of the genius of an American family. A special pleasure for Roiphe's following. -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

Proving that generational novels need not be commercial dross, Roiphe ( A Season for Healing ) has produced an imaginatively plotted and dextrously written saga that follows the Gruenbaum family from a Polish shtetl to New York's Lower East Side and then up the social and economic ladder. Rich in atmosphere and detail, boasting solidly realized characters drawn with empathy but with unsentimental depiction of their faults and foibles, the story is told in a series of random flashbacks, interspersed with the narrator's tart, ironic asides: "Reader: Do not assume that immigrants are all the same and that all family stories begin on a boat and end up with a safe-deposit box at Chase Manhattan." Fleeing poverty and pogroms, pious tailor Moses Gruenbaum, his plucky wife Naomi and their three children arrive here in 1880; after enduring years of penury, their son Isaac founds a suit-manufacturing company, and the family's fortunes begin an upward climb, interrupted by numerous setbacks and tragedies. Some of the Gruenbaum descendents are corrupted by wealth; others feel the need to assimilate to ensure social status. Tracing the lives of five fractious generations, Roiphe acknowledges the impartial hand of fate that sometimes strikes down the innocent and rewards the wicked. A teaser throughout the narrative, whose answer is not revealed until the last page, concerns the condition of a young woman undergoing emergency surgery in a Jerusalem hospital. Roiphe makes good use of the social history of each decade, but her major achievement is a panoply of memorable, thoroughly engaging characters.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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