We Were Strangers Once

Grand Central. Sept. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781455571437. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781455571451. F
German Jews Egon Schneider and Meyer Leavitt immigrate to America on the cusp of World War II, having to leave behind their professional lives as a doctor and a writer, respectively, in exchange for work as the "Cheese Man" at a deli and a sandwich board holder. As the two men navigate the culture, language, and romantic landscape of their new land, Carter's (Swim to Me; The Orange Blossom Special) narrative wanders to include their girlfriends' backstories, which read like a poor imitation of Adriana Trigiani's Lucia, Lucia. There are intermittent updates from family in Germany, and examples of anti-Semitic behavior in America, while Egon and Meyer continue to compete with each other for success and women, each encounter triter than the last. It's not until Egon faces consequences with the immigration service for his illegal veterinary practice and Meyer launches an epistolary campaign to save his friend that some element of maturity enters their relationship. Carter's fourth novel suffers from too many clichés, and the characters, with the exception of Egon's parents, are difficult to care about. Likewise, the transitions among the story lines leave gaps in resolution and understanding.
VERDICT More satisfying reads about the wartime experience of Jewish refugees in the United States and in Europe can be found in Georgia Hunter's We Were the Lucky Ones or Tatiana de Rosnay's Sarah's Key.

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