I am often asked how I decide which books to review. I hear about new books from all kinds of sources, publicists, authors, various review journals, etc. If it sounds like something I would like, or something I think my library patrons would like to know about, I’ll take a look at it. In this case, I heard about this book from the author’s sister-in-law.
I was working in the library when a woman, her mother and young daughter approached the desk. The younger woman asked if I had this book available but when I looked it up, I saw that our copy was checked out and in fact, all the libraries’ copies were checked out and there was a waiting list. Usually the reaction to such news is disappointment, so I was surprised when these women got all excited about it. That’s when I found out the author was related. They told me about the book, but just from the title alone I knew I would want to read it.
I was born in New York, and the first two years of my life were lived in a two-family house. My parents and I lived upstairs, and a nice lady named Mary Jane and her family lived downstairs. Mary Jane’s daughter was my babysitter. I don’t really remember living there, but on an occasional trip to the area my parents would point out the house so I had a good idea of what it looked like – very much like the cover of this book. So I was intrigued.
The story is about a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York and starts out in the late 1940’s. Abe and Mort are brothers, and when their father passes away they inherit the family business, a box manufacturing company. Abe is a natural born salesman, but Mort loves numbers and wants to become a mathematician. It quickly becomes apparent that Abe cannot run this business alone, so Mort drops out of college to help out. He hates his job and is resentful of his brother for forcing him into this position.
Abe marries Helen, and short time later Mort marries Rose. Abe and Helen soon have four boys, but Mort and Rose have three girls, driving another wedge between the brothers. Mort is jealous that he has no sons to carry on his name and treats his wife appallingly. He is judgmental and controlling, has little use for his daughters, and Rose is docile and sad about it all.
The brothers live in a two-family house, and Rose and Helen become the best of friends, closer even than sisters, helping each other out with the cooking, the kids and everything else. Then they both get pregnant at the same time. A few weeks before their due dates, their husbands are out of town on business when one of the worst blizzards in New York history hits the city. Both women go into labor, ambulances cannot get through nor can the doctor, but luckily there is a midwife a few doors down who delivered a baby and was stuck there because of the storm. The midwife makes her way down the block and delivers the two babies, a boy and a girl. She steps out for supplies, and Helen’s oldest daughter, Judith, comes in and is holding one of the babies. She asks whether it is her cousin or her sibling, and the two women look at each other and a deal is struck.
This story follows the lives of these women, their marriages and families, and how secrets can destroy lives. I laughed, I cried but most of all, I couldn’t put it down. I loved it. If you loved Joshua: A Brooklyn Tale by Andrew Kane, or you are a fan of Naomi Ragen, then this is the book for you.
3/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™
THE TWO-FAMILY HOUSE by Lynda Cohen Loigman. St. Martin’s Press (March 8, 2016). ISBN 978-1250076922. 304p.