[Editor's note: The full title is "Son of a Son: Fathers and Sons Unconditional Love and Unintentional Misunderstandings
" by Marilyn Amster Gould, from New Alliance Publishing.]
The life of Myer Brochner, the principal character in Marilyn Amster Gould's debut novel, Son of a Son could easily have been the life of my paternal grandfather or for that matter anyone's ancestors who fled Eastern Europe during the latter part of the 1800's where stifling of Judaism was widespread.
The opening Prologue finds Myer's son Ira creating a film documentary of the life of his ninety-year old grandfather when we learn that Myer came from Presov, a town located in the northern part of Austria-Hungary. For Jews living in Eastern Europe during this era life was not exactly a bowl of cherries. It was the time of wide-scale, targeted, and repeated anti-Jewish rioting known as the pogroms which spread like wild fire throughout Eastern Europe. And the paramount subject of discussion among the townsfolk was emigration as fear and unrest permeated those individuals who survived these pogroms.
Myer's parents decided that the only way out of this hell was to send their thirteen-year old Myer to the USA and once settled they would follow him to the "goldenh medina" (golden country) and start a new life in the land of opportunity.
Myer recounts how appalled he was when he learned of his parents plan and more so that they were entrusting him with strangers who would accompany him to America. Not only was he frightened about leaving his parents but also his true love, Mary Catherine.
On his way to boarding the ship to America, Myer meets Zolton Palesky, a Russian "meshugane"(crazy) oddball who calls himself an entertainer. Little did Myer realize the influence Zolton would have on his life and that they would eventually remain close friends for many years. According to Myer, he considered Zolton to be his father, brother, teacher, and a tease. If it were not for his nudging, he would never have grown up to be the man he became and the many lives he in turn touched.
Once in America, Myer and Zolton were involved in a series of employment opportunities including baking strudel, which he learned from his father, working as "hoggees" (workers that rode mules or horses pulling canal boats on the Erie canal and tending and caring for the animals pulling the boat). When winter set in, they moved to Albany, New York and worked in an ice plant where they also found accommodations with their employer. Myer never stopped thinking about Catherine and continuously corresponded with her hoping that eventually they would reconnect. Unfortunately, one day he received a devastating letter from Catherine's mother telling him the sad news that Catherine had died. And if this was not enough, we will discover a secret that Catherine kept from him that would torment him throughout his life. It was also at the same time that Myer had met Kate, who would later become his wife and who would play a pivotal role in their married lives, which incidentally was filled with not only a great deal of pleasurable moments but also some startling surprises as Myer takes us on a trip through his colorful past.
Although the theme of immigrants making good in America is not new, nevertheless one of the triumphs of this story is Gould's skill as a wonderful storyteller re-imagining the plight of immigrants that landed in America in the early years of the last century with an abundance of chutzpah. Her characters come alive as they are seamlessly interwoven with actual events and which Gould reminds us about at the beginning of several chapters. Gould also sprinkles Yiddish expressions throughout the novel and for those who are not familiar with Yiddish, Gould provides her readers with a glossary of these expressions.