My Mother’s Son

David Hir­sh­berg

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews - MEG NOLA

Fig Tree Books (MAY) Hard­cover $23.95 (368pp) 978-1-941493-22-9

David Hir­sh­berg’s My Mother’s Son cen­ters on a vi­brant post­war Bos­ton neigh­bor­hood that is a ver­i­ta­ble melt­ing pot. Its res­i­dents are pri­mar­ily Jewish, Ital­ian, and Ir­ish. Though the novel’s fo­cal year is 1952, the nar­ra­tive shifts from the past to the present, cre­at­ing a col­or­ful and com­plex por­trait of a fam­ily from their im­mi­gra­tion to their as­sim­i­la­tion and even­tual suc­cesses.

The main voice be­longs to Joel, who grows up on that di­verse block. As an adult, Joel be­comes a “ra­dio ra­con­teur,” host­ing a pro­gram that he uses as a fo­rum for many of his child­hood sto­ries. Joel’s mem­o­ries are filled with larger-than-life per­son­al­i­ties and rec­ol­lec­tions of an era when child­hood seemed less com­pli­cated and more en­joy­ably col­lec­tive.

Be­yond the novel’s nostal­gic hu­mor, how­ever, are deep reflections. The story cap­tures the psy­cho­log­i­cal af­ter­ef­fects of the Holo­caust, the po­lio epi­demic, and the Korean War. The some­times crafty pol­i­tics of Bos­ton’s wards are de­tailed, par­tic­u­larly the ex­u­ber­ant vic­tory par­ties. As Joel’s grand­fa­ther notes, those elec­tions brought about true change in Amer­ica, shift­ing the bal­ance of power from the elite to in­di­vid­u­als, with im­mi­grants who were once barely tol­er­ated com­ing to form ma­jor vot­ing blocs.

Of the novel’s var­i­ous char­ac­ters, Joel’s Aunt Rose and Un­cle Jake are es­pe­cially mem­o­rable. Hav­ing sur­vived the bru­tal­i­ties of Nazi Ger­many, Jake is haunted by his har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. He is sus­tained greatly by his love for Rose, a beautiful and car­ing woman, who deals with her own is­sues of melan­choly and de­pres­sion. The de­tails of their mar­riage are in­ti­mate and bit­ter­sweet, with a warmth like the “cin­na­mon, raisins and cho­co­late” of Rose’s home­made pas­tries and Jake’s fra­grant pipe smoke, but also in­formed by dark se­crets to be dis­cov­ered with time.

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