As I was putting the paperback fictions on the shelves in our store, I found one with a picture of a Yad — a pointer for reading the Jewish Bible — on its cover. With 330 pages of nicely-spaced text, it looked like a book I could get through quickly.
It wasn’t until I finished that I realized I started at the end of a series.
But that’s how I’ve ended up choosing Maisie Mosco’s cheekily-titled New Beginnings as the second book to review from the Book Nook.
(Don’t worry, I keep the spoilers to a minimum.)
New Beginnings is about the zesty, youthful generation of a large, Jewish-part-Catholic family. Abraham Patrick is about to become an English Lord, and he’s in love with an old friend who doesn’t feel the same. His cousins Janis, Jeremy and Bessie have their own problems.
The characters are implausible, though not unlikable. They do things with little reason, and I had difficulty believing their motivations.
Perhaps it’s just that there are too many characters. Each of the four main ones have their own lives, loves and circles of friends. Far too often, I found myself to referring to the family tree at the beginning of the novel to figure out who was who.
In retrospect, as this is one book in a much larger series, I suppose it’s also nice for the reader to see ol’ Uncle Henry come back for a brief visit. But to me, it reads like a sitcom scene where a special guest walks on set with a cheesy smile and gracious applause.
The dialogue between these poorly-developed and strangely-placed characters is often painful. It flows unnaturally, with Mosco trying to refresh our memories with overt details. More than once, you have characters questioning why they’re telling another character something (spoiler: it’s so you quickly and succinctly hear their backstory).
Other parts are patronizingly didactic. I could have read more subtle attempts at pushing environmentalism from Greenpeace pamphlets, and the whole colonialist-in-Latin-America thing felt tacked on simply for the message behind it.
There are three lines about Maisie Mosco at the back of her novel.
A former journalist, Maisie Mosco began writing fiction in the sixties and is the author of fourteen radio plays. NEW BEGINNINGS is her twelfth novel. Originally from Manchester, she now lives in London.
Another journalist writing novels, eh? I thought I’d dig a little.
The Wikipedia entry on her is sparse:
She was born as Maisie Gottlieb in Oldham, northeast of Manchester, England, on 7 December 1924, the eldest of three children. Her parents were of Latvian Jewish and Viennese Jewish descent, and both sides emigrated to England around 1900. A clever girl, she wanted to study medicine, but because of her mother’s illness, she, as the eldest child, had to leave school at the age of 14 to help in the family business. At the age of 18 she joined the ATS and at the end of World War II was helping to teach illiterate soldiers how to read.
She married twice: to Aubrey Liston in 1948, then to Gerald Mosco in 1957. She died in London on 31 October 2011, aged 86.
So I did a little more digging.
I got myself a free trial subscription to Newspapers.com, and I looked her up there.
I found the story The Guardian wrote about the first novel in this series, Almonds and Raisins.
Reading this article, I thought about Jewishness in New Beginnings. It’s certainly there, and it does speak more about the ease with which younger generations flow in and out of Jewish family life.
It’s not a focus, but there are also a few interesting scenes about a branch of the family located on the West Bank in Israel and the tensions within. I think it’s a shame that Mosco didn’t pull more out of this story, instead focusing on the green movement and globalism angle.
I also found this beautiful letter in the New York Times’ archives, which details an exchange a woman in a bookstore delivers Mosco’s series of books to the letter-writer’s train station.
To be honest, this letter is enough to make me want to at least give Almonds and Raisins a chance. We don’t have a copy, but I’ll be keeping my eyes open for it in other used bookstores.