A Sombre Reflection

When the Chips are Down is a review by Stoddard Martin, an author and critic himself, of Nine Love Letters by Gerald Jacobs published by Quartet Books at  £20.


Here is the opening of his long review which will give the reader an inkling of what the book is about:

We are living through a neo-expressionistic, intolerant era. Famous lines come to mind: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” The resentful go ranting, provoking ill-judged rejoinders; the ante is upped, and clunky apparatchiks are called in to assess who has indulged in hate-speech. Amidst sound and fury, where are the quieter voices, the humane ones, belonging to those who begin and end by trying to understand?

Gerald Jacobs is not a loud-speaking writer. His sentences are never calculated for show. He spins out a narrative calmly and justly, in a reasonable voice. His tale is about Jewish experience, but not with special pleading or without exposing foibles of the tribe. Nine Love Letters is no exercize in us vs them; it is a novel about people in their un-public lives, the way they have navigated historical noxiousness, the difficulties they have in simply living.

The ordinariness of Jacobs’s characters is at the base of their virtues, yet neither they nor their lives are truly ordinary. How could they be when one of the two families, eventually united in marriage comes from Baghdad at the time of the Farhud and the other, now reduced to one, from Budapest at the time of exportations to Auschwitz? These epic disasters provide a precisely painted-in background, but they are not what Jacobs trains our eye on…

Now it is time you buy a copy of this amazing novel and find out for yourself its emotional impact in an age when the world is still going through a spat of inhumanity and violence.

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