A scin­til­lat­ing story of sis­terly sad­ness

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -


AMY BLOOM’S lat­est novel is the lit­er­ary equiv­a­lent of sun­light on wa­ter — all dazzle and sur­prise. The sur­face story, set i n 1940s Amer­ica — of two young Jewish half-sisters thrown to­gether by one mother’s death and the other’s de­fec­tion — grabs you straight by the heart.

Bloom’s ti­tle is glo­ri­ously ironic, for al­though Iris and Eva find them­selves a for­tu­nate world away from the un­fold­ing hor­rors of Europe, they strug­gle to sur­vive their own crushed dreams and cruel tribu­la­tions.

Abun­dance of hope first despatches them to Hol­ly­wood, where Iris seems sure to make their for­tunes. En­dowed with movie-star glam­our, a stu­dio con­tract and Harpo Marx’s gift of a pale silk nightie, Iris is none­the­less ru­ined in an in­stant by her in­no­cence in love.

Lit­tle sis­ter Eva is book­ish and se­ri­ously smart — earn­ing pin money by sweep­ing up hair in the Cut’n’Curl, she in­vents her own hap­pier end­ing to Lit­tle Women and learns this key les­son from her beauty-salon client: “God doesn’t give with both hands, honey.”

No, in­deed. For the al­most-lucky pair things too of­ten fall apart “like shuf­fled cards”. From their ganef of a fa­ther (he steals their money and mas­quer­ades as a but­ler to put a roof over their heads) the girls in­herit just enough con­nivance to get by. But their street cun­ning is off­set by a ten­der com­pas­sion, which is how Iris comes to be ap­pointed the mas­cot for badly burned Bri­tish pi­lots and Eva, scarcely more than a child her­self, sin­gle­hand- edly raises a small boy lib­er­ated from a Jewish or­phan­age.

Not that the girls are ever truly alone through the catas­tro­phes of con­fla­gra­tion, loss of mind, hid­den chil­dren, racial be­trayal and doomed love that be­set them like softer, bomb-free echoes of theShoah.The­fam­i­lyof quirkyfriends that gath­ers to sus­tain the sisters lives on in the reader’s head, long af­ter the last page — Clara, the black chanteuse with the skin con­di­tion, vi­tiligo; the fairy­tale new-mon­eyed Ital­ian Torel­lis with their sleek limos and mil­lion-dol­lar crib; and great-hearted Gus, the self-styled “fat, gimpy me­chanic with a Ger­man last name” who is in­terned with­out just cause in North Dakota.

Lucky Us sings and sighs in equally ex­quis­ite mea­sure, and surely sets Amy Bloom even higher in the fir­ma­ment of first-rate fic­tion. If you read only one book this month, make it this.

Madeleine Kings­ley is a free­lance writer


Amy Bloom: dazzle and sur­prise

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