Reviewer Bani Sodermark. Bani has a Ph.D in mathematical physics and has been a teacher of physics and mathematics at the university level in both India and Sweden. For the last decade, her interests have been spirituality, healthy living and self-development. She has written a number of reviews on http://amazon.com. Bani is a mother to two children.
This is a very detailed, deeply honest and extraordinarily sensitive account of the coming of age of a girl (the author Pearl Goodman) in the sixties, in the outskirts of Toronto, Canada. Growing up is seldom a painless proposition and this account is no exception. In this case, the experience was further compounded by the fact that both Pearl’s parents were Jews and had been incarcerees in the concentration camps of World War II.
This paragraph from the Introduction says it all as regards the title of the book.
am trying to reconcile within me the bizarre extremes in a phrase
I’ve coined “from jackboots to Jack Benny”. The unison beat of
thousands of pairs of jackboots clicking and echoing on pavement so
many years before my time and the little girl that I was, listening
to the insipid whining of Jack Benny on TV”.
The harrowing effects of the concentration camps had left their mark on Pearl Goodman’s parents. Both had lost their entire families during the Holocaust. In addition, they were both identity conscious Jews, living in a non-Jewish country and had strong ideas of what was Jewish and what was not. The experience of a concentration camp had instilled in them, an overwhelming fear of something unknown lurking in the background. This ever present, unspoken sense of dread, percolated down to the growing child, Pearl who describes it as follows:
up, I couldn’t sleep at night because I was rocked by an
inexplicable, primordial fear. I was often alarmed, or at the very
least, confused by what my parents said and did”.
This book appears to be some sort of a catharsis, where the psychotherapist in Pearl Goodman emerges. That this is her first book, shows the strength of the need for her to come to terms with this childhood experience. She relates in this book, some key incidents of her childhood in Toronto, which show how, she and her six year older brother, tried to reconcile the relatively greater freedom their peers enjoyed as part of the culture in Toronto, (where flower power, peaceniks and free love were coming into vogue), with the pressure of conforming to her parents idea of how good Jewish children should behave. She also documents some instances of natural teenage conflict with her parents that have been significant in her life, and, in that context, also mentions the instances in her parents’ lives which might have had a bearing on their behaviour at that time.
It would be wrong to say that the interaction with Pearl’s parents was entirely negative. The good times also find a mention in this book, like the time when she was gifted with a new bicycle. However, even as she tells negative stories of her family, and of herself, the entire narrative steers clear of self pity. This is one of the major strengths of this book.
The story ends with the passing of her parents. By this time, both Pearl and her brother, have made their peace with their parents. Pearl is also the primary caregiver to this bewildered duo who worked so hard to raise their family.
Reading this book, gave me a feeling of deja vu. A sense of the commonality of the coming of age experience in a time and place, requiring a subtle balance between the pressures of conformity to the family tradition and the upsurge of new and modern value systems that permeated Toronto at the time. In some sense, one undergoes a similar catharsis, of one’s teenage years. This book is not a fast read, but it creates an ambience that sits in the memory, long after it has been read and laid aside.