Susan’s Book Talk: A Day of Small Beginnings


So in this week’s Booking Through Thursday post, I promised you talk about a great read I’d just finished.

Here it is, a definite Sunday Best.

The book is called A Day of Small Beginnings, and it’s the debut novel by Lisa Pearl Rosenbaum, who seems very nice from the very small e-mail exchanges we’ve had. (Notice how we’re back to the debut novel thing? I can’t get away from them, can I?)

A Day… is the story of three generations of Liebers, a Jewish family from Poland whose history is changed by a single act of courage — and stupidity, all rolled into one. We begin with Itzik and then spend some time with his son and finally, the family’s redemption is at last complete through the acts of his granddaughter, Ellen. (Notice how it takes a woman for redemption to happen? Hmm?)

The tale’s more subtle than this. It’s also hard as hell to explain; there’s a ghost involved, named Friedl. She’s an interesting ghost, as she tells us many things but never really lets us, the reader, see for ourselves. Do we take her at face value? There’s no reason not to, but …

Now, I believe in the possibility of ghosts like this. While Friedl bothered some of the members of my book club last Thursday, she didn’t bother me. In fact, I liked her. And she sings better than I do, too. Brownie points for that.

Okay, so we’ve got Itzik, his son, and his granddaughter. And a ghost. Time to throw in three more elements and you’ll have the essence of this complex story: the country of Poland, which becomes a character in and of itself; anti-Semitism; and Raphael, the last Jew in the fictional town of Zokof.

(Have you ever heard of a Polish Jew named Raphael? Do you know how long it took me before I connected the idea of this fictional Raphael to the idea of the Angel Raphael? I am going to ask Rosenbaum if that’s the proper leap. But back to my rave about the book.)

For me, what makes this book isn’t that redemption is Ellen’s to deliver. In fact, that might be the most obvious part of the book — that the redemption happens at last and how, in fact, Ellen arrives at it. I figured it out very quickly, and groaned, “No, we’re NOT going there.” But we did. And it worked better than I’d hoped, too, which is a huge prop to Rosenbaum.

Rather, what made this book for me was the character of Raphael, Zokof’s Jew. Yes, he was the town’s own personal Jew. And he was the last one, having returned after the War and deciding to tend to Friedl the ghost. His mission is to find her eternal peace, and Itzik’s family is the key to that (and the reason she’s not at peace in the first place. She is, after all, dead, and the dead should rest in peace. Right?).

At once pious yet willing to question religion and its rules and dogma, at once serious and mischievous, Raphael is one of those characters we readers desire in our fiction: the kind who lives and breathes, the kind you wish you could sit down and have dinner with.

This book really makes you think about religions, about how we view people who are other than us. It makes you question God right along with Itzik, Nathan, and Ellen — and some of the various other supporting cast, such as Ellen’s love interest, who was also an interesting character. Rosenbaum bucks the trends and gives us some really great men in this book.

It’s a huge book smooshed into a small package, but it doesn’t feel squished. It’s sort of like a clown car: you can’t believe how much Rosenbaum packed in. And yet, unlike a clown car that never seems to end, you’re never overwhelmed by what’s happening. Things are moving and changing, yet we wind up exactly where we’re supposed to, all the pieces fitting nicely.

Really. Don’t miss this one. Use my link above and get your own copy; you won’t regret it. (What? You want MY copy? Well, take that up with my Mom, okay? I gave it to her.)

Also, don’t forget that there are only a few more days for Scribbit’s February Write Away contest. Get your entries in and check back on Friday for the list of participants. Oh, yeah, and the winner. Can’t forget about that; it’s a contest, not a carnival. Still, I’m eager to read what others have written. Hope you’ll visit some, too. And mine, of course. (although some of you may have done so already. Visit again, okay?)

Happy reading! May you all find such neat gems in your TBR pile as A Day of Small Beginnings.



  1. julia

    February 17, 2008 1:38 am

    The book sounds wonderful. I love your review.

  2. Robin

    February 17, 2008 3:04 am

    Sounds like an intriguing premise.BR/BR/FYI, Raphael is a fairly common name in Israel. It’s often abbreviated to Rafi :).

  3. Susan Helene Gottfried

    February 17, 2008 9:40 am

    Yeah, but that’s Israel. I’m talking backwater Poland!

  4. Bob-kat

    February 17, 2008 11:25 am

    That sounds like an incredibly interesting read. I will add it to my list which is about a mile long!BR/BR/Re. your comment on my blog. I hear you loud n clear. I toured too and the avoided the buses at all costs.BR/BR/I also do a male dominated martial art now and I have to try twice as hard and take my bruises without moaning not to be written off as ‘just a woman’. Thanks for popping by as ever 🙂

  5. Friday's Child

    February 17, 2008 12:18 pm

    Hello, Michele sent me!BR/BR/The book sounds fascinating!

  6. Friday's Child

    February 17, 2008 12:18 pm

    Hello, Michele sent me!BR/BR/The book sounds fascinating!

  7. Friday's Child

    February 17, 2008 12:18 pm

    Hello, Michele sent me!BR/BR/The book sounds fascinating!

  8. nimrodiel

    February 18, 2008 2:38 pm

    Can you understand now why I had such a hard time writing the review for this when I first got it? BR/BR/I’m so glad that you loved the book as much as I thought you would. It called for me to send it your way 🙂

  9. Susan Helene Gottfried

    February 18, 2008 4:26 pm

    I am SO glad you did, Nim. What a great book.

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