Mov­ing and then mud­dled

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - FIC­TION MICHAEL FREED­LAND

ISO WANTED to en­joy The Grat­i­tude Cra­dle (Wil­ton 65) by Rhona Bar­nett Beck — who since its pub­li­ca­tion has now sadly died — the tale of a Holo­caust sur­vivor at the cen­tre of a fam­ily saga. From the blurb, it promised to be the kind of book for which I would let ev­ery­thing else dis­solve into thoughts, sen­ti­ments and mem­o­ries.

And it is mov­ing, es­pe­cially in re­la­tion to the main char­ac­ter, Chaim, around whom the story is wo­ven. There were tears in my eyes as I read about the hor­rors that fol­lowed the end of his life in the camps. And the story of his re­la­tion­ship with Leah, another sur­vivor, who — af­ter be­liev­ing she was made bar­ren by the star­va­tion she suf­fered — gives him a child, is as poignantly told as any I have read re­cently.

I am sorry to say that the rest of the novel fails to match up to this cen­tral thread. It is re­mark­able how such con­trast­ing lev­els of writ­ing can ap­pear over 327 pages un­der the same au­thor’s name.

Leav­ing aside the well-wo­ven ac­count of the life of Chaim, the re­main­ing threads are se­ri­ously tan­gled, leav­ing the plot con­fus­ingly com­pli­cated and packed with so many char­ac­ters that it could do with a mini Who’s Who.

There is the re­la­tion­ship with Anne, the for­mer wife of Chaim’s son-in-law (some­how a “grand­sonin-law” ap­pears — some­thing it took me to the end of the book to work out) who, be­fore Anne, had been mar­ried to Chaim’s daugh­ter, the one was who was born soon af­ter Chaim’s wife (who died in child­birth nine months later) was lib­er­ated. I know. It’s dif­fi­cult.

When other char­ac­ters ap­pear, like Jeanette, Chaim’s son-in-law’s latest wife, who is an an­tisemite, and her daugh­ter Ju­dith and var­i­ous grand­chil­dren, it is tempt­ing to just give up — a temp­ta­tion re­in­forced by the mix up be­tween post-war and con­tem­po­rary set­tings and the strange no­tion that, when Chaim de­cides to spend his late re­tire­ment writ­ing about the tales in the To­rah, we should be treated to page af­ter page of Bi­ble sto­ries in the man­ner of a book given as a prize at a school Purim party.

It is sad that this is such an un­even hotch­potch be­cause, at times, Beck shows that she can tell a pow­er­ful tale.

The story of his re­la­tion­ship with fel­low sur­vivor, Leah, is as poignantly told as any I’ve read re­cently The plot is packed with so many char­ac­ters that it could do with a mini Who’s Who

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