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The Puzzle King (2009)

– tekijä: Betsy Carter

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
1026202,360 (3.43)2
Inspired by her own family's legends, Carter tells a story of unlikely heroes, the lively, beautiful Flora and her husband, the brooding, studious Simon, two German Jewish immigrants who are each sent to America by their families to find better lives.
Viimeisimmät tallentajatyksityinen kirjasto, tarynrenae, rVeburg, kpol, quartzite, DeBruyn, KarenRhae, Aseleener, capriciousreader

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My impression of The Puzzle King was that it was going to be a story about the rescue of Jews from Germany during World War II. Surprisingly the description from the front flap of the book of Flora standing in line at the consulate in Germany appears very late in the book.

The character that the reader first encounters is a nine-year-old boy named Simon who is leaving his family in Vilna in order to immigrate to the United States. He is unaccompanied on his trip and has no one to meet him or take care of him in the United States. He is entirely on his own.

As the mother of an eight-year-old boy, the story of Simon's solo immigration to the United States was shocking. It is almost unthinkable to me how a mother could let a child of such a young age go out on his own to make a place for himself in a new country. Yet this was not an uncommon occurence in that era. I kept thinking of Simon's mother, and how impossible her situation must have been in order for her to willingly send her son to a new country.

After reading about Simon's initial experiences in the United States, the reader learns about Flora's youth and her immigration to the U.S. with her sister. At least in her case she had an aunt and uncle to watch over her, but even then it seemed as if she and her sister made their own decisions.

As the book progresses, the narrative switches back and forth between Simon and Flora's point of view as they age. There are occasional chapters that continue the story from the points of view of other relatives, such as that of Flora's sister or her niece.

The Puzzle King will show the reader what life was like for immigrants, especially Jewish immigrants, in New York in the early 1900s. I liked how the author explored the different ways that the characters addressed their Jewish heritage: from embracing their indentities to changing their names and taking on the role of a Gentile.

I really enjoyed reading about the lives of Simon, Flora, and their relatives. I did feel like the story had just started to pick up the pace when it ended rather abruptly. If Betsy Carter ever writes a book about the further experiences of her relatives that were rescued from Germany I would definitely read it. ( )
  akreese | May 16, 2013 |
I can't begin to imagine leaving my country and immigrating to another as an unaccompanied child. My own children would forget their heads if they weren't firmly attached to their bodies. And yet countless numbers of children were hugged and kissed by their mothers and fathers and put on a boat to America in search of a better life and more opportunity than they could ever hope to have staying where they were. Betsy Carter has taken family lore and woven a story for two such children who grew up to live the immigrant's dream and to help countless others escape the gathering clouds of WWII.

The novel opens with the beautiful Flora Phelps standing in line at the American consulate in Stuttgart, Germany determined to get her family out of Hitler's Germany and setting the stage for the tale of Flora and husband Simon's lives as immigrants from Lithuania and Germany respectively. The story then immediately drops back in time to just before he turn of the century and switches focus to introduce little Simon Phelps. His widowed mother worked for months to be able to send 9 year old Simon to America, a place full of the opportunities that his native Vilna didn't hold. When she kissed him goodbye, she told him that she and all of his siblings would join him when he was grown and had a house. And so this artistic young boy travelled across an ocean and stumbled upon a boarding house of good people and set about making his way in this new world, working and going to school both.

Meanwhile, Flora Grossman also emigrated to America, sent as a girl from Germany to live with her older sister in the home of her mother's relatives. She is raised in relative comfort and easily assimilates into her new country, although unlike her older sister she does not try to hide or deny her Jewish heritage. Going to a dance with her sister one night, she meets the sweet and shy Simon Phelps and ultimately marries the talented and innovative man.

Simon's phenomenal success in the advertising business doesn't entirely hide the sorrow he feels at being unable to locate any of his family back in Vilna and so Simon embraces Flora's family wholeheartedly. As they are unable to have their own children, they dote on Flora's niece Edith, inviting her to come to them from Germany to recover well from a serious illness. Through Edith's eyes, the austerity of Germany post-WWI and the hardships faced, especially by the Jews, are terribly evident and in complete contrast to the life that Simon and Flora live in America. All is not perfect for them either as anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head. But it is what is not said in younger sister Margot's letters from Germany that is most alarming. As the news becomes more and more troubling, the narrative picks up speed racing to the conclusion foreshadowed in the prologue.

As a story of immigrants, this is a familiar one: person comes to America and through hard work becomes a phenomenal success. What is unusual is the mournful looking backward towards the family left behind or lost. The desire to be reunited drives the plot through decades, even before liberating their Jewish families becomes a matter of life and death. The beginning and middle of the book are evenly paced and solidly written. The ending is much more rushed and scantily written, leaving it feeling slightly imcomplete. Perhaps Carter felt more able to elaborate and flesh out the tale when there was no family history available to her and was more constrained once she reached the point where history takes up again. Flora and Simon were both lovely characters complete with the small personality quirks that made them fully realized and realistic. And Carter has captured beautifully the desire for assimilation felt so strongly by many immigrants in the enticing and ultimately sad character of Flora's glamorous sister Seema. The importance of family, the forces that shape us, and what drives us to rise above the ordinary are all here between these pages offering book clubs a wealth of discussion topics. Those interested in the immigrant experience, in the air in America prior to WWII, and Jewish life from the turn of the century until the eve of Hitler's ultimate dominance will also enjoy this read. ( )
  whitreidtan | Mar 31, 2011 |
Puzzle King is the story of a few of the fortunate who escaped from Germany to America before the start of World War II. Simon, and the sisters Flora, and Seema all are sent to America as young children, leaving their families behind in Germany. Their success as immigrants is extraordinary as their find their place in the new country, work hard, and prosper. Yet always hanging over them is the question of what happened to the families they left behind. This is a new perspective on WWII, that of the ones who made it out, yet are still stuck looking back.

Betsy Carter writes beautiful, wise, funny characters that I could really empathize with. The sisters, Flora and Seema, in particular are flawed, but likable nonetheless. The plot is an interesting one, an angle I have not read before. Unfortunately the story is choppy, fully fleshed out in parts, then skimming over more important points, leaving out crucial details. We get little information about Simon's search for his own family, about his sudden success as an artist, and about the courtship between he and Flora. I like Betsy Carter's writing style and I think she tried to accomplish something really ambitious with this book. ( )
  frisbeesage | Oct 4, 2009 |
The Puzzle King, by Betsy Carter is a well-written novel, based on Clark’s ancestors and family legends.

The novel opens in March 1936, in Stuttgart, Germany, where a woman named Flora stood in line waiting to see the consul. The story line then moves to 1892, and back and forth through the decades between 1892 and 1936. The main characters in The Puzzle King are Simon Phelps, and Flora Grossman.

Their lives have strange twists, as each one of them emigrates to America. Simon, a Jewish boy, is sent by his mother from Vilna, Lithuania to New York City in 1892, at the age of nine in order to build a new life for himself, and eventually for his family. She promised him that once he was established with a house, she and his siblings would join him. The void of familial loss was ever present throughout his life.

lora, from a Jewish family, emigrated from Germany with her sister Seema, to Mount Kisco, New York, where they stayed with relatives of her mother. The two sisters left behind their mother and their sister, Margot. Flora and Seema came of age in America, each one assimilating and adjusting in different manners.

Betsy Carter has brought us a story that is heartfelt, poignant, and one with the presence of constant yearning, yearning for those left behind, and yearning for the smells, tastes, warm touches and the comforting sights of what once was. As immigrants, and assimilating into a new environment and way of life, Simon and Flora’s positive experiences never overpowered those desires and voids in their lives. Those longings encompass the pages. ( )
  LorriMilli | Sep 4, 2009 |
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On a March morning in 1936, an American woman in her forties named Flora Phelps stood in line at the American consulate in Stuttgart, Germany.
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Inspired by her own family's legends, Carter tells a story of unlikely heroes, the lively, beautiful Flora and her husband, the brooding, studious Simon, two German Jewish immigrants who are each sent to America by their families to find better lives.

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