Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Innocents

Francesca Segal
The Innocents

Chatto & Windus, 2012

At the beginning of the novel 28-year-old Adam Newman is at the engagement party with his sweetheart from high school times Rachel Gilbert notices among guests Ellie Schneider, 22-year-old Rachel’s cousin. Adam works at firm owned by the father of his future wife Lawrence Gilbert. Adam is caring, honest, responsible, bright, smart, pride of the Jewish community of North London. His fiancee Rachel is a perfact match: she's a nice, bright, loyal, modest, and can offer comfort to Adam and well-being in the house for many years. Adam and Rachel started dating in high school, and so have been dating almost 12 years, following all the Jewish rituals, trying to do everything as it should be. Adam's and Rachel’s families has long been intertwined, merged into one, but the formal relationship is not settled yet. Now the lovers are finally engaged, and the wedding is planned in 8 months, in August, to allow preparing within all the rules.

This family drama at first glance is no different from hundreds of other family dramas, which already flooded the market. Jewish theme seems to be to aggravate the situation, but The Innocents is not another "book about the Jews," which were always in abundance. Action of the book actually takes place in the Jewish community, and all the heroes of the book are Jews, even Jew Jews. But instead of the Jews here could be devout Russians, or Mexicans, or rural Vietnamese, or any other representatives of the community, which holds the old rites and traditions. Judaism is not a central theme, it is only the reception here. Jewish community of North London is a collective image of the old world, of the past, of family roots. Endless relatives, respect elders, celebrating Jewish holidays are only the elements of the world in which the main character has grown and which continues to live in. The novel in the first place is about the battle between the new and the old feelings, the traditions with emotions, love with fidelity. Respected and respectable, Adam slides on his life path, not even imagining that beyond his world there is something different, strange, new, mysterious.

The hero is trapped: he is too good to erase all at once and give up on what he worked for so many years, but on the other hand, he is captured by the senses, and not always can fight them.

Francesca Segal, portraiting in her novel Jewish relatives, with kisses, bathing in the Jordan, certain epithets, unintentionally created a whole world full not with nasty characters, but with those whom you would not want to spend time with. Adam is like an elf among trolls and goblins, he wants to be different, wants to escape. And in spite of his sins, he has a lot more compassion and respect than others.

Ellie, though representative of the new world, did not forget her roots, making a difficult choice in the final.

Segal writes clever prose, convincing in detail, you will not even notice how time flies. This novel is not a romantic bubble gum, which we saw enough. This book is about true feelings.

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