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Golden Countryby Jennifer Gilmore
Synopses & Reviews
Golden Country vividly brings to life the intertwining stories of three immigrants seeking their fortunes: the handsome and ambitious Seymour, a salesman turned gangster turned Broadway producer; the gentle and pragmatic Joseph, a door-to-door salesman who is driven to invent a cleanser effective enough to wipe away the shame of his brother's mob connections; and the irresistible Frances Gold, who grows up in Brooklyn, stars in Seymour's first show, and marries the man who invents television. Their three families, though inextricably connected for years, are brought together for the first time by the engagement of Seymour's son and Joseph's daughter. David and Miriam's marriage must endure the inheritance of not only their parents' wealth but also the burdens of their pasts.
Spanning the first half of the twentieth century, Golden Country captures the exuberance of the American dream while exposing its underbelly — disillusionment, greed, and the disaffection bred by success.
"In a powerfully moving and ambitious debut, Gilmore follows the lives of three immigrant families, the Brodskys, the Verdoniks and the Blooms, who all begin their American journeys in shtetl-like Brooklyn and end up somewhere unexpected between the 1920s and the 1960s. Struggling door-to-door salesman Joseph Brodsky invents Essoil, the world's first two-in-one cleaner, and makes his childhood friend Frances Verdonik — whose husband, Vladimir, invents the television — its first TV spokesperson. Meanwhile, Joseph's brother, Solomon Brodsky, works his way up through New York's Prohibition-era underworld to become a powerful bootlegger known as the Terrier. When he marries Pauline Verdonik, Frances's sister, and draws Seymour Bloom, whose son eventually marries Joseph Brodsky's daughter, into organized crime, the lives of all three families are inextricably linked. Gilmore's large cast allows her to take a panoramic look at the period of intense change spurred by waves of immigration and the television, which brought celebrities and products into living rooms throughout America. She also delves into the daily goings-on in three generations of families as they are forged in the 20th-century crucible. Talented and compassionate, Gilmore is a writer to watch. (Sept. 5)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"One thing can be said for sure about this crowded, good-humored, somewhat wacky first novel: Don't give it to Mel Gibson as a Christmas present. It's all about American Jews, and while they are not deemed 'responsible for all the wars in the world,' as Gibson has so famously opined, the Jews within these pages do seem to earn pots of money in various ways and succeed almost beyond credibility. 'Golden... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) Country' is set from the 1920s to the 1960s, and the author puts her very large cast through some very vigorous paces. Major characters here invent America's first two-in-one cleaning agent and television (yes, television!); they make fortunes in organized crime and on the Broadway stage. One even ends up as the equivalent of 'Dear Abby.' All these accomplishments follow a poverty-stricken communal life in a Brooklyn ghetto filled with 'hunched, weeping Jews' full of 'sadness and fear: being taken, Cossacks chopping off their heads, the haunting feeling in their mothers' stomachs of the danger of a world of hate moving closer and closer still.' There are so many characters that the author gives us an elaborate, interlocking set of family trees that actually sprout a few folks too many. Leo and Sylvia Weinstein? I looked in vain for you. Dulcy Bloom? I know you were there so that your brother David wouldn't have to be an only child, but surely Jennifer Gilmore could have found something for you to do. The same for you, Gloria Weinstein. You're only there to keep sister Miriam company for a few scenes, but you never really get to open your mouth. Like the ghetto itself, the novel is scrabbly and overpopulated. Four families predominate. The Brodskys, Herbert and Selma, have two sons: Solomon, who ends up as a gangster and a disgrace to the neighborhood, and Joseph, who will invent the two-in-one cleanser and gets stuck with the Yiddish accent and lines like 'I zhink I will sit zhis one out' and 'Zhis is vhat you sink is zhe problem, Fran?' But Joseph has a heart of gold, works hard, makes a fortune and marries Esther Weinstein, and they in turn have the beauteous Miriam. (Don't try to keep track of all this — just get a feel for the thing.) Meanwhile, the Verdonik family gives birth to two girls, the comely Pauline, who eventually runs off with Solomon the gangster and brings disgrace to her family, and the chubby Frances, who marries the man who invents the television tube, has a checkered career as an actress and ends up being the spokeswoman for that two-in-one cleanser. And then there's yet another family, the Blooms, who possess tenuous ties to both show business and culture. Seymour Bloom, an impecunious salesman, is also involved with Solomon the gangster and brings scandal to the Bloom family. But that's the least of his worries. Seymour is married to the exquisite but pea-brained Sarah, whose parents made the mistake of sending her to Smith College. Sarah has ideas that are far above herself. She takes to drink, has a lesbian lover and is a spectacularly bad mother to David, who will later marry Miriam Brodsky. Sarah, who could be a poster child for embarrassing mothers everywhere, slurs into an open mike at David and Miriam's wedding, 'Better he should marry a gentile than a Polish Jew!' No — better not give this one to Mel. The tone here veers wildly from melodrama to comedy to attempts at social commentary. Miriam, for instance, is given one of the first generation of American Jewish nose jobs, which leaves her with an inconsequential button of flesh, a couple of tweaked nerves in her face and the total inability to smell. Her mother, at first defensive about it, explains to her husband, 'Miriam will thank us later. ... No one walks around with a nose like that anymore. It's completely out of fashion.' All this in the name of assimilation, of turning from someone 'hunched' and 'weeping' into someone like Irving Berlin, who makes a cameo appearance in the narrative and stands for unequivocal success. This novel is extremely engaging. (I read it in one sitting, staying up until after 2 in the morning.) But after Miriam and David marry, the story goes on for about 90 more pages and five more years. This is the least satisfactory section of the novel, with several truly preposterous scenes and a general feeling of sham. Characters stop 'talking' or 'saying' and begin to 'scream' — about a dozen times in 80 pages — the way you might scream to get recalcitrant children to clean their rooms. A family Thanksgiving and its surrounding circumstances are so unbelievable and tone-deaf that they call into question the entire rest of the book. Still, the early pages are so well researched and so charmingly recalled that you feel inclined to forgive the author. And when the mystery advice columnist they've all been reading for decades is revealed to be one of their own, it comes as a satisfying surprise. 'All these years,' Esther Weinstein Brodsky says. 'A Jew from Brooklyn telling me how to behave like a lady. That's criminal.' You can almost hear the author giggling. And see Mel Gibson clutching his forehead and ordering up another vodka." Reviewed by Carolyn See, who may be reached at www.carolynsee.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"Gilmore vividly renders the lives of the Brodskys and Blooms as they experience both sides of the American dream.... Gilmore deftly documents the history of the era, from the Depression to the invention of television, but her real strength is in her characters.... Readers will embrace Gilmore's tale of individuals who test their mettle in a bittersweet era suffused with sorrow and success." Booklist (starred review)
"[An] affecting debut... While assimilation, from nose jobs to New England colleges, comes into play, Gilmore's sweeping narrative goes much further, covering the political and social markers of almost five decades. Gender relations, as well as the impact of class ascendance on both individuals and families, are deftly and sensitively covered…the novel's historical backdrop — the lure of the Mafia in Brooklyn's impoverished Williamsburg community, the Great Depression, the 1939 World's Fair, the invention of television, the magic of Broadway musicals — makes this a memorable and often powerful book. Highly recommended." Library Journal (starred review)
Gilmore reinvents the classic Jewish American novel in her ambitious and extraordinary debut that follows the intertwining lives of three immigrant families from the 1920s to 1960s.
A LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE FINALIST
A NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARD FINALIST
Golden Country vividly brings to life the intertwining stories of three immigrants seeking their fortunes: the handsome and ambitious Seymour, a salesman turned gangster turned Broadway producer; the gentle and pragmatic Joseph, a door-to-door salesman who is driven to invent a cleanser effective enough to wipe away the shame of his brothers mob connections; and the irresistible Frances Gold, who grows up in Brooklyn, stars in Seymours first show, and marries the man who invents television.
"Gilmore's lively prose captures both the exuberance and the disillusionment of the immigrant experience."--Entertainment Weekly
"With a voice at turns wise and barbed with sharp humor, Gilmore warns: be careful what you wish for, the American Dream can sometimes be a nightmare."--Vanity Fair
"Jennifer Gilmore might just be the Jewish answer to Jhumpa Lahiri. Her absorbing novel captures the sadness and wonder of the immigrant experience."--W Magazine
"This novel is extremely engaging . . . well researched and charmingly recalled."—The Washington Post Book World
JENNIFER GILMOREs work has appeared in magazines, journals, and anthologies, including the New York Times Magazine, Allure, Nerve, and Salon. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. Visit www.JenniferGilmore.net.
About the Author
Jennifer Gilmore's work has appeared in magazines, journals, and anthologies, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Allure, BookForum, CutBank, Nerve, Salon, and The Stranger. She works in publishing and lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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