Metropolitan: Holt. Apr. 2023. 304p. ISBN 9781250869845. $27.99. F
The National Book Award longlisted Graver (The End of the Point) labels her latest book a work of fiction, but in reality it is a lovingly researched family history, centered primarily on her maternal grandmother Rebecca Levy. The eldest daughter in a family descended from Sephardic Jews forced out of Spain 400 years ago, Rebecca enjoys an idyllic childhood in cosmopolitan Constantinople during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. She’s beautiful, a talented singer, and from a family that’s wealthy and worldly; they speak multiple languages, including Ladino, a form of medieval Spanish. But anti-Jewish sentiment is rising, and her father is awash in gambling debts, so the family emigrates to a small Jewish community in Barcelona. Rebecca, a talented seamstress, negotiates local prejudice to start a successful dress business, but she marries unwisely. Meanwhile, rising fascism is an ominous drumbeat in the background. Can her family escape to America?
VERDICT Ultimately the triumphant story of one family’s unique experience in the Diaspora, this novel also dives deep into the heartbreak of immigration and exile. Graver’s characters are rendered so realistically that the reader aches as the world turns against them, but the ever-resourceful Rebecca perseveres. Highly recommended.
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