Fiction or Foreshadowing: Tell Me How This Ends Well

Common bookworm struggles include discovering new reads and having a large enough budget to accommodate said book discoveries.  When I stumbled upon Penguin Random House’s program, Blogging for Books, I was thrilled.  Free books in exchange for book reviews (which I happen to love writing)….a definite no brainer! 

9780451496881Within the literary fiction genre, David Samuel Levinson’s Tell Me How This End Well grabbed my interest as a work of Jewish American literature. The colorful dust jacket and cartoonish font belies the narrative found inside Levinson’s story, which is packed with complex characters and literary themes.  Some themes which grabbed my attention include:

From Bondage to Freedom

Passover, the Jewish holiday which recalls the Israelites escape from Egyptian bondage, serves as the symbolic backdrop for the novel’s main plot development.  The Jacobson family has endured the emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse of its patriarch, Julian Jacobson.  Julian has all of the traits of a psychopath and the family has suffered long enough under Julian’s watch.  As the family reluctantly gathers for the family Seder, a plan unfolds with the intention of killing Julian. 

The plot is revealed through the narration of each of the Jacobson children, Jacob, Edith, and Mo, followed by their mother, Roz.  The individual attention given to each family member’s perspective is one of my favorite parts of the novel.  Readers are able to see Julian through the eyes of each person, and just like in real life, each Jacobson has internalized Julian’s actions differently. The plot to kill Julian is messy and often takes unexpected turns.  The family initially is not working together, which leaves the reader to ponder, “Which family member will lead the Jacobson family out of their own personal Egypt?”

Second Generation Relationships

An added dimension to Levinson’s novel is the tense relationships that exist between second (and even third) generation Jews and Germans, post-Holocaust.  Readers are first introduced to Jacob Jacobson, a queer screenplay writer living in Germany with his lover, Dietrich.  Levinson spends a lot of time describing the tensions between Dietrich and Jacob, which culminate in a bizarre beach scene where Jacob and Diet are arrested by the police for public indecency.  “What wasn’t right was so wrong, so utterly, horribly, disgustingly wrong, that it was nearly indescribable, nearly but not quite, for there was Jacob in the schmatte with the yellow Star of David embroidered into the pocket and there was Dietrich in the SS uniform, shiny black leather boots and all.”

It would take a lot of psychoanalysis and white space to break down the complexity of this scene.  My interpretation is that Jacob and Diet’s relationship ties into larger themes of power struggles, personal empowerment, and what it means to be a Jew in the 21st century.

Isolationism vs Interventionism

In the futuristic landscape of 2022, American Jews are the subject of regular anti-Semitic attacks.  Israel has been disbanded and Israeli refugees find themselves unwelcome guests.  Even though this may be a work of fiction, Levinson’s portrayal of an isolationist United States is not too far off from our current political climate.  The questions which Levinson’s novel pokes at, and which every Jewish person has found themselves asking include, “What happens when things go south again?  What safe haven will exist for Jews?”  In fact, the title of the book, Tell Me How This Ends Well, can be an invitation to discuss not only the personal ending to Julian Jacobson’s reign of terror, but the larger ending (or beginning?) of the Jewish plight. 

As the novel comes to a close, readers discover that Jacob is welcomed in Berlin.  Germany has become an unexpected ally to the Jews.  The U.S. Jacobson family members continue to struggle with anti-Semitism.  Jacob tries to convince them to join him in Germany, “…which made it a capital offense to harm in any way or kill a person of Jewish descent”.  Fast forward to 2024 and the last page of the novel, where Roz Jacobson has passed away and Germany has ratified the law, removing Jews from “The Approved List of Protected Species”.  In an uncertain and unsafe landscape without their matriarch, the Jacobson children continue onwards.

Tell Me How This Ends Well is a challenging and thought provoking novel.  The characters are memorable.  There are so many competing themes in the narrative and I felt the pull of all of theme, which served as a distraction.  With that being said, this would be a great book selection for a JCC book club or Jewish American literature class, as there are many angles to discuss.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

Worldly Possessions

December is the perfect month to reflect on the material possessions acquired in one’s lifetime.  My husband’s gift to me this year was my Macbook.  For Chanukah, he has given me art supplies each night.  The general idea is,”I support your creativity and I know you can do awesome things”.  And while I could go on about my never-ending wish list and all of the household renovations I lust after, I thought I would look at it from a different perspective.  If I could only keep five possessions, what would I choose?

Rules: all pets are automatically included (they are family members, not chattel); all photos are included, and my engagement ring & wedding band remain on my finger at all times.  Now that the groundwork has been established, here is my top five list of most beloved worldly possessions:

One: My mom’s needlepoint canvases.  When I was about 12 or 13, my mom took up needlepoint.  Before the internet made crafting easily accessible to everyone, my mom took up needlepoint the old-fashioned way: books and seventy year old mentors at the local sewing store.  Mom built up an arsenal of fancy stitchwork, resulting in two of my favorite wall decorations.  Currently displayed in my living room are the pieces I call “Wise Unicorn” and “Hot Air Balloons Take Flight”.  My mom always had a love for all things whimsical, which is reflected in her canvas choice and thread colors, which range from rainbow to metallic.

Two: God Gave Us Mary/3-10-1925.  In the treasure trove which is my china cabinet is a small , 2 inch x 2 inch, gold-framed needlepoint canvas which reads “God Gave Us Mary, 3-10-1925”.  It belonged to my maternal grandmother, Marietta.  It was created by one of her family members (presumably her mom or grandma).  My grandmother was one of the most important people of my lifetime.  For a large portion of my life, she was my caretaker.  The safety and comfort I felt around my grandmother has not been replicated since she passed away.  To me, Marietta was sent by God and that small canvas is a physical reminder of her presence/presents.

Three: My ketubah.  My husband and I just celebrated four years of marriage (and over a decade of togetherness).  We were married on 11-11 underneath a handheld chuppah, surrounded by friends and family.  I spent weeks picking out a ketubah.  I browsed online for hours.  Many were either too trendy, too modern, too abstract, or too traditional.  We finally took a drive over to a friend’s Judaica shop, where we decided on a piece which celebrated the Jewish lifecycle with cute watercolor symbols for special times throughout the year.  Our ketubah is egalitarian and is a constant reminder of the partnership which we have chosen together.  It is irreplaceable.

Four: Pawprints and animal ashes.  In the master bedroom closet is where the remains of our beloved pets, Teddy, Princess, and Tony, can be found.

Teddy was my second poodle, a white miniature adopted when I was four years old.  Teddy lived an insanely long life, was hit by a car twice, and loved eating Golden Grahams every evening.

Princess was my first puppy.  We brought her home at eight weeks old.  She was a cottonball of an animal who loved mischief, snacks, and sprints through the backyard.  In her old age, she developed diabetes.  I stuck myself with an insulin needle twice for that pup.

Our third pet, Tony, passed away this year.  Tony was a stray tabby that wandered into Mark’s life.  He was an instant lover who had a snarl for a smile.  Tony was my first (and best) kitty love.

Five: Eeyores.  Most people are unaware, but I am a lover of all things Winnie the Pooh, especially Eeyore.  Who doesn’t love a sad donkey?  One of the things which I love most about my husband is his indulgence of my silly passions.  Over the course of many years, Mark has built me a beautiful collection of Eeyore figurines.  I display them in my china cabinet and take them out once or twice a year to “rearrange” – ok, so maybe I have a little fun playing with them.  They are a reminder of how loved I am by my lover.

I hope your special belongings are also filled with love and meaning.

Disclaimer: this post was written under the influence of Sufjan Stevens.