Books: The Noagenarian Novel, a tender coming-of-age story in New York

Newcomer writer and longtime novelist Gloria Levi makes this familiar immigrant family saga sing

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The innkeeper’s daughter

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Gloria Levi | TSPA The Self Publishing Agency Inc. (Vancouver, 2022) | $19.95 | 290 pages

You could call Gloria Levi a talented and up-and-coming first-time writer, and you wouldn’t be wrong.

But that account leaves out the fact that she is publishing her first novel, The Innkeeper’s Daughter, at age 91, and has already published two volumes of memoirs and a number of pamphlets associated with her career as a gerontologist and social worker. . So while this latest work is her first novel, it is hardly her first publication.

The innkeeper’s daughter is a mild and endearing portrait of its protagonist (and, to put it simply, her autobiographical stunt double) Gilda and her family, the Hamerovs.

The family, like many of the millions of immigrants who reached the United States in the 20th century, began living in poverty in New York. Gilda’s beloved father Leo dies young, leaving her mother to raise four children as a single, widowed mother.

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Before he died, Leo had started the family on a path out of poverty by running summer resorts in the Catskill Mountains north of the city. Gilda’s mother, Ida, worked hard alongside Leo and then on her own after her death, gradually upgrading the family business from leasing and operating seasonal resort hotels in upstate New York to owning very popular hotels. more substantial in New Jersey.

While the story arc and some of the emotional tone of this immigrant family saga is familiar, Levi makes it his own and makes it sing. His character sketches of Gilda’s family and their friends and colleagues are tender and moving, and he successfully masters the challenge faced by all novelists writing of bygone eras – how to provide enough exposition for the context of the highlighted story to have make sense – without getting bogged down in boring explanatory essays.

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This is a novel about coming of age as a Jewish child in mid-century America, and it successfully captures the excitement of the protagonist’s involvement in left-wing Zionist and union politics.

It is a novel of historical tragedy, with the Holocaust an ominous offstage presence. But it is also an account of deeply felt and keenly observed family dynamics, particularly Gilda’s long and resentful estrangement from her mother, which ultimately resolves itself into the book’s emotional climax.

This is a family portrait, skillfully executed in soft shades of watercolor. It’s also a meditation on loss, grief, and forgiveness that will move many readers. Highly recommended.

Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He welcomes feedback and story suggestions at [email protected]

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