This Business with Elijah
ISBN: 0888011741 Global Overview for this book
1 journaler for this copy...
Well, shame on me.
This book proved to be entirely delightful. It consists of 15 interrelated stories set in the north end of Winnipeg in 1961/62. About half of the stories centre around 10 year-old Danny Stein, who we learn has been a lonely child spending most of his time with his comic books. He suffers from an inferiority complex, has no friends and nothing he does ever quite measures up. When his parents take his comic books away he's left floundering trying to understand the world in which he lives.
The other half of the stories focus on the people in Danny's life - his parents and relatives, and the people in his neighbourhood. These people are Danny's guides to the adult world that Danny just doesn't understand. His parents are poor but hardworking, seeming to spend all of their time trying to make a living from their clothing store and leaving Danny to fend for himself. While they follow Jewish customs, it seems they do so only to satisfy "Baba" to whom they are financially indebted and they provide little if any spiritual guidance to Danny. As such Danny learns most of his life lessons from the people in his neighbourhood, who are also poor and suffering, including Danny's first love interest, a wise-cracking 30 year-old waitress at "The Popularity Grill" and "Old Man Werner". Old man Werner could have been a Rabbi but has had to settle for being the landlord/caretaker of the building in which Danny's parents operate their clothing store.
Old Man Werner is lonely too. His wife died (a year and 11 months ago) and none of their families survived the Holocaust. Danny and Mr. Werner become friends and for a while each gives life and meaning to the other's days. Mr. Werner's stories serve as a fine substitute for the stories of Danny's comic books.
I quite like "growing up" stories and these have themes common to any childhood rites of passage stories (adventure, conflict, fantasy, sexuality) but the extra "Jewish" element was particularly engaging and interesting to me. I grew up in a small town that had one Jewish family (that I know of). There was no synagogue, nor did the family have any children my age. The only thing about their family that was significant to me as a kid was the fact that they owned a grocery/restaurant in town and they were open on Sundays. This meant my brother and I could skip out of Sunday school and spend our "offering" on Tahiti Treat and Coffee Crisp bars. As an adult in Winnipeg of course I have had much more contact with the Jewish community. I have attended Jewish weddings, brisses, bar and bat mitzfas but have really only observed from an interested adult's level. So Mr. Werner's stories about Elijah and the Ba'al Shem Tov and religious study and his own past were as entertaining and educational to me as they were to Danny.
I've also learned that Sheldon Oberman was far more than a "just newspaper writer". He wrote many books and stories for children, was a playwright and songwriter and taught school in Winnipeg for more than 30 years. Sadly, he passed away in 2004 at the age of 54.
This is my seventh book by a Canadian male author and my seventeenth book overall for the 2nd Canadian Book Challenge, Eh?
I'll release it into the wild soon for someone else to discover.
left in the care of Timothy Eaton.
Released for the Never Judge a Book by its Cover release challenge in week #2 (theme: names in the title).
I hope the finder enjoys this book by a Winnipeg author.