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A Castle in Brooklyn: A Novel Paperback – Jan. 1 2023
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Spanning decades, an unforgettable novel about reckoning with the past, the true nature of friendship, and the dream of finding home.
1944, Poland. Jacob Stein and Zalman Mendelson meet as boys under terrifying circumstances. They survive by miraculously escaping, but their shared past haunts and shapes their lives forever.
Years later, Zalman plows a future on a Minnesota farm. In Brooklyn, Jacob has a new life with his wife, Esther. When Zalman travels to New York City to reconnect, Jacob’s hopes for the future are becoming a reality. With Zalman’s help, they build a house for Jacob’s family and for Zalman, who decides to stay. Modest and light filled, inviting and warm with acceptance―for all of them, it’s a castle to call home.
Then an unforeseeable tragedy―and the grief, betrayals, and revelations in its wake―threatens to destroy what was once an unbreakable bond, and Esther finds herself at a crossroads. A Castle in Brooklyn is a moving and heartfelt immigration story about finding love and building a home and family while being haunted by a traumatic past.
From the Publisher
“Wachtel [shows] how surviving the horrors of Nazi-occupied Poland…doesn’t guarantee a ‘happily ever after’ in America but may become a source of pride, strength, and reconciliation for the next generation.” ―Historical Novels Review
“A Castle in Brooklyn is a story about love and endurance. It follows Jacob and Zalman as they survive 1944 Poland and make their way to America, to a dreamlike life that is shattered too soon. With deep empathy, Wachtel lays bare an incredible resilience and desire to live that will inspire readers and keep them turning the page. Magnificent.” ―Rachel Barenbaum, author of A Bend in the Stars and Atomic Anna
“An enchanting, lively, and heartbreaking novel―all at once―A Castle in Brooklyn evokes such a tantalizing yet improbable image, especially for Holocaust survivors. Survival rendered them royalty, but could a fortress keep them safe from memories and destinies that could cross any moat? Wachtel delivers a most worthy debut.” ―Thane Rosenbaum, author of The Golems of Gotham, Second Hand Smoke, and Elijah Visible
About the Author
Shirley Russak Wachtel is the daughter of Holocaust survivors and was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She holds a doctor of letters degree from Drew University and for the past thirty years has taught English literature at Middlesex College in Edison, New Jersey. The mother of three grown sons and grandmother to two precocious granddaughters, she currently resides in East Brunswick, New Jersey, with her husband, Arthur. For more information visit www.shirleywachtel.com.
- Publisher : Little A (Jan. 1 2023)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1662508751
- ISBN-13 : 978-1662508752
- Item weight : 295 g
- Dimensions : 13.97 x 2.54 x 20.96 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: #100,892 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #172 in Jewish Historical Fiction
- #676 in Cultural Heritage Historical Fiction
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from Canada
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An overall fantastic read!
How it all worked out in the end. The sad and the happy.
I appreciated the reminder that their survival, both present and future, depended on their honesty and trust in each other. In addition to an examination of what makes a house a home and what constitutes ‘family,’ I also appreciated her focus on what ‘being there’ for another really entails. If we aren’t willing to unpack the baggage and deal with the fallout, we aren’t really a support for a needy friend.
While the beginning was focused and compelling, the narrative slowly meandered through the following decades and my interest waned slightly along the way. Regardless, this is a heartfelt debut story about the weaving together of dreams, disappointments, and three hearts.
I was gifted this copy by Little A and NetGalley and was under no obligation to provide a review.
They built a house. A family grows. A child dies. Friendships are destroyed.
Infidelity. Racism. Other stuff.
Who are these characters? Why are they here?
Someone from Japan enters the story. People keep dying. Stories lay unresolved. The characters become pedantic. The house’s new tenants rearrange the furniture. A jogger runs by with water bottles, hugging their thigh (or something like that). A nosey neighbour.
Another page. Introspection. Two vehicles collide.
It’s been 10 years since 9/11 - was mentioned; so is Aids.
Why is 9/11 mentioned?
Back to the Vehicles Colliding
The last thing he saw was MERCURY.
If it was the last thing he saw, how do we find out?
Someone smokes weed, or does heroin, or cocaine, or…
I’m being mean.
I’m confused. No, I’m not.
I read the acknowledgments.
I rarely read the acknowledgments.
Writing is hard.
The book’s layout is good.
WRITTEN: 26 Feb 2023
Top reviews from other countries
In 1944's Poland, Jacob was hiding from the Nazis in the widow Frau Blanc's barn loft...
... with a fellow Jewish boy named Zalman. Frau Blanc sheltered and fed the two young boys until...
The Germans finally caught up with them...
The Nazis dispatched Frau Blanc and forced the two to join a wave of humanity marching toward a nearby clearing and a mass grave...
The Jews were given shovels and forced to dig...
At the first rays of moonlight...
The two friends put down their shovels, fled into the surrounding forest and ran for their lives...
It is 1952 and Jacob now lives in America, working in a seltzer bottling warehouse in New York and taking English classes where he meets his wife Esther...
Jacob dreams of building his castle...
And, following his marriage to Esther, Jacob sends for his friend Zalman to come help build his dream home and live in the house with he and Esther...
This novel was my Amazon First Reads selection for December 2022. The pickins' were slim indeed this month but I settled for this story because the others were just not my kind of reading material.
The first half of the story was very interesting and I thought that I had somehow managed to pick a good book from the pitiful handful of offerings but then there was the second half... whew!!
At that point the plot meandered all over the place introducing many decades and so many different people that I finally lost interest in the whole enchilada.
I gave myself a pat on the back for staying with it to the bitter end but it took me a week to accomplish this.
Summarizing, first half was good; second half not so much.
The main story focuses on the love of two brothers and one’s wife. This story was emotionally compelling and left me turning the pages. The human strengths and failings of the characters are all too real. The buoyancy of immigrants – and of Jews in particular – amidst adversity is thematically all over this story. In that sense, it is a story of human triumph within loss and survival.
This book is set in history, but is not really historical fiction. Other than the Holocaust, its moorings are essentially timeless and not specific to a certain location. Some of the later stories of other tenants did not catch my intrigue and seemed a bit unnecessary for the main plot.
Life commonly has many starts and restarts. This book underscores that and should draw an audience interested in human perseverance and determination. The characters are strong. This story also speaks of the power of place to house human drama. Lovers of literary fiction will be drawn in because of the appropriateness of these three’s love for each other. Yes, much like each protagonist, this book has a few shortcomings, but not enough to hold back the work from ultimate success.
I liked the way the story line wound through many characters’ perspectives without actually shifting narrator voice. The author had a deft touch with that. I felt like the proverbial fly on many walls without ever feeling a strong, jolting shift. Nice!
Something else that struck me well as I read as the feeling I was getting a peek into a side of male tenderness that we don’t often encounter. The main male characters’ inner thoughts are all explored gently and expressed clearly and frankly. The author did some terrific work in that vein, and I find myself thinking about the men and boys even though I finished the book days ago. I think I will remember them for a long time.
A couple of “I wish you hadn’t done thats” though:
The section that plopped a family from Georgia into the middle of the story was truly bad. The characters were unsavory, their actions were ugly, and the later erasure of their clearly destructive act at the end of their section goes unexplained. It’s like the author found a weird thread, tried to weave it in, decided to abandon it and then forgot to come pull it out later. Ugh. And the inclusion of a totally improbable connection to the main plot was in sharp contrast to the aforementioned authenticity of the tale. The book would lose nothing and gain a bit by that part being omitted. Please.
The time spent on that chapter would have been better spent flushing out a lead-up to the way the story ended. As it is, I closed the book semi-happy with the closure, but mostly feeling like the author had remembered she had somewhere else to be and needed to hurry up and just get this off to the editor.
It’s a good story, and I found it worth reading. I will be on the lookout for more by this writer.