Family is never perfect. We may love our families, but sometimes, we cannot stand them.
The new novel, The Immortalists, by Chloe Benjamin starts off in 1969. Varya, Daniel, Klara and Simon Gold live in New York’s City Lower East Side with their immigrant parents. There is a rumor going around that a fortune-teller has moved into the neighborhood. Her specific gift is being able to see the date when her visitors leave this earth. Curiosity compels the Gold siblings to seek out this fortune teller and learn what their futures may hold.
Nearly a decade later, their father dies unexpectedly and the relationship between the siblings is forever changed. Simon and Klara head west to San Francisco. Simon becomes a dancer and Klara follows her dream of becoming a magician. Daniel finds job security as a doctor and faces issues with his career. Varya becomes a scientist and tries to blur the boundaries between science and immortality.
This book is amazing. While it is a little slow in the beginning,when it picks up, it really picks up. The main reason that I enjoyed it was that the relationships between the siblings were far from perfect and felt absolutely normal. Anyone with siblings would be able to recognize and appreciate the relationships between the main characters.
I absolutely recommend it.
In 1975, the Lower East Side at the turn of the 20th century was a memory. That year, the movie Hester Street premiered and the memories of that world and the people who lived in that world became vivid and real.
In 1896, Jake (Steven Keats) is a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe who has remade himself into an American. He is excited when his wife, Gitl (Carol Kane) arrives with their young son. But his excitement dissipates quickly when he sees that his wife still clings to the old traditions. As the marriage begins to show signs of wear and tear, he turns to Mamie (Dorrie Kavanaugh), a dancer who has fallen in love with and has, like Jake assimilated into the American culture.
This movie is like a time machine. Through the lens of the characters, the viewer is taken to a world that does not exist anymore and whose denizens are long gone. It is in black and white, with subtitles (some of the actors having lines in both English and Yiddish). It is a story of the age old dance of staying true to your faith and culture versus assimilating into a new culture. The slow death that is Jake and Gitl’s marriage feels very authentic, like it could be replayed at any time and place when faced with the issue of immigration and the fear of assimilation.
I recommend this movie.
At first glance, New York City seems to always be on the cutting edge of modernity. Buildings made of steel, glass and concrete fill the skyline. It is the city of concrete dreams that Alicia Keys referred to in the song “Empire State Of Mind“.
But there is another New York City. One that is older, that represents previous generations who left the lands of their ancestors for the freedom and opportunity that the United States offers.
The Eldridge Street Synagogue and Museum on the Lower East Side is a marvel of architecture, hope and opportunity.
Built in the late 1880’s by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, they flocked to the Lower East Side and to this synagogue.
It has been renovated extensively over the past two decades.
Walking into the main sanctuary feels like time has stood still. It looks very much like it did to those immigrants who made this synagogue their second home. I felt like I was walking into Hester Street.
I recommend the Eldridge Street Synagogue and Museum for both tourists and locals.