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.

SoCo

I am not a good traveler.

As much as my heart may desire to explore other places, I am a creature that thrives on routines.  My sanity is held together by very specific sleep habits (a fan for white noise, complete silence and no lights or electronics), access to soft, furry mammals, and my beloved tea kettle.  With the requisite conditions mentioned above and a good 8-9 hours of sleep, I am Mary Poppins in the morning.  Anything less and I become an awful human, disinterested in the world at large and feared by my husband.

Needless to say, I was a bit hesitant when we embarked on our first vacation in years.  I brought everything necessary for comfort (including my four year old poodle, Bobbi) and we set out for Bluffton, South Carolina.

Bluffton, South Carolina is a small town west of Hilton Head.  Bluffton is home to many retirees, including my in-laws.  It is a perfect combination of old and new, with a charming historic district and new construction communities filled with cookie-cutter homes.  Geographically speaking, it is a 30 minute drive from Savannah and Beaufort, and about two hours away from Charleston.  Mark and I always feel like we have entered a bucolic daydream, happily escaping the frenzied and abrasive lifestyle of South Florida.

Highlights of our fall sojourn included:

Binge listening to Serial podcasts in the car.

Enjoying Pepper Chicken Stew, which my mother-in-law prepared for our tummies

Exploring Beaufort on a horse drawn carriage tour,which included learning more about its history, architectural wonders, and relevance in pop culture. Movies such as Forrest Gump, The Big Chill and Prince of Tides have been filmed in Beaufort.  Beautiful homes in historically accurate colors line the streets, with porch roofs painted in haint blue, a Gullah tradition said to ward off evil spirits. Mark and I visited the grave of Robert Smalls. We ended our day by exploring the graveyard at St. Helena’s, a parish established in 1712.

beaufort-house

Idyllic

beaufort-grave

Grave at St. Helena’s in Beaufort, SC

Sunday was devoted to my favorite southern city, Savannah.  Savannah is eclectic.  Bull Street is where you will find Oglethorpe’s squares and quaint storefronts.  Savannah is great for artists, history buffs, foodies, and city dwellers.  I dream of one day owning a Victorian jewel, complete with a porch for reading and sweet tea sipping.

My husband’s desire was to tour the Mercer Williams House, made infamous in the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  I was tickled by the fact that the house is still inhabited by Dr. Kingery and her cat.  In fact, I spotted a cat toy underneath one of the antique furniture pieces.

Besides our tour, we enjoyed lunch at one of our favorite Savannah spots, Goose Feathers Cafe.  I had the Bird’s Nest, which is grits topped with two poached eggs, salsa, and surrounded with a “nest” of cheddar.  After lunch, we made a stop at The Book Lady Bookstore (which is quite possibly the most charming used bookstore ever).  Mark picked up a signed copy of Mike Doughty’s book, while I stumbled across a Savannah local’s work, The Woman Who Spilled Words All Over Herself.

We stood in line for ice cream at Leopold’s.  I had a scoop of honey-almond and Mark ordered a banana split.  We wrapped up  our day at the marketplace, where my husband bought way too many pralines.

writers

Bookstore.jpg

Selfie.jpg

We stink at selfies.

On Halloween, we joined Mark’s parents in Charleston.  It was a bad day to be in downtown Charleston due to the start of a well-known trial.  Instead, we opted to head west, eating lunch at The Glass Onion.  It is a very, very good thing that this restaurant is far away from me.  I would eat there everyday and that would be unfortunate for my waistline.  The menu changes daily.  I ordered the shrimp po’boy, which was buttery and flavorful; Mark dined on the clam po’boy.  The iced tea was crisp and refreshing.  The mashed potatoes were rich and lumpy.  It was the yummiest.

After lunch, Mark and I traveled to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.  I wanted to see a plantation, specifically from the slave’s perspective.  Magnolia is one of the first plantations to offer tours of the slave quarters.  Our tour guide, Joseph McGill, was extremely knowledgable.  He is an advocate, working with The Slave Dwelling Project.  It was humbling to see the small cabins which families shared and inhabited until 1990.  (That’s not a typo….descendants really lived there until 1990).  Magnolia’s main crop was Carolina gold rice.  Flooding rice fields meant pestilence and hard, manual labor.

As we were leaving, we saw the plantation’s cat, Sylvester.  He is 21 years old and very friendly.  The plantation was both beautiful and eerie.

Kitteh.jpg

If you are still with me, I am impressed with your dedication.  Our vacation was the perfect blend of southern comfort, and it left me with the slightest feeling of wanderlust.  I am already pestering Mark about where our next road trip will take us.  In the meantime, I have good books to take me to faraway places.