Clark's Eye on Books

Clark I reviews books and sometimes writes them!

Peril: Pearl Goodman 

Watching the world, trying to learn about her neighbors, making friends and sharing the history of her family creates an interest in the reader from page one of this interesting novel. Filled with a child’s love of life, fantasy and hope to make the world a better place, Pearl Goodman shares her life, her family’s strife and much more with readers. Peril: her name is Jewish and yet meaning impending doom or something bad will happen. First we meet her watching as a new family moves into her neighborhood and a young boy named Henry. Pearl of Polish descent and Henry of German make a an odd friendship and at times you being to wonder if it will last. Remarks made about her grandparents and his. Statements about the war and a mother who fears that making too much noise in their house will chase the business owner away, Pearl looks for ways to integrate in a world other than the one created by her parents. Added in at the very beginning are Yiddish expressions both my mother and grandmother taught me growing up.  We hear the author’s voice as she relates in the first person her life growing up, the children she meets, and the importance of what she learns and hears in the back lane and the games of dare she and several others play. Wanting to care for a pet was not what her mother would allow. References to the holocaust and what happened to so many Jews were made in most of the chapters and related to several incidents to ward off her curiosity and explain why Pearl needed to focus on other things. Her mother did not seem open minded and the way they lived seem as if she was afraid that the same thing that happened in Germany to the Jews would happen here.


As the author introduces Lydia and discusses the reasons many Jewish people decided to change their names, become more anglicized and not broadcast that they were Jewish. Like the windows in a plane that you look out of and see the world below and visualize the many places that you pass and would love to visit, Pearl’s eyes are like cameras that take pictures of the world that she sees as if she is in a plane, describing where she is, has been and would like to be. Living in St. Clair she meets many different people and observes them closely and forms her own opinion. Telling about the backyard she really did not have and the walkout from the store on the ground floor, she understands the many drawbacks of where she lives, the limitations and the people living there that provide the stories that she is relating to the reader. Meeting Lydia and her family we learn of her habits and what happens when smoke fills the air in their apartment or flat and someone dies and one lives but just how you will have to learn for yourself. Many people look at the world and really don’t see anything past what they want to see and never fully comprehend the lives of others and often theirs too. Pearl’s eyes encompass quite a bit. Information about her neighbors, tenants and friends are recorded on paper in this book or memoir as if she’s creating a permanent video for everyone to watch over and over again. Some descriptions quite stark, bland and others descriptive as she realizes that life is not always what a young person wants and making do with what you have is sometimes what needs to be done. Her parents are from the old school and many times refuse to budge on the things that she wants, her desires and opinions when they differ from theirs. Customs must be adhered to, reminders of the war and what the mother went through graphically described at the end of most chapters, beating the odds as she describes her mothers 16 encounters with death. Rituals as simple as a night out and the preparations, the fun of receiving special candy treats from the hostess whose house they visited and the references to the Cold War, Russians and Anti-Semitism round out many of the subjects of the chapters read so far. But, darkness invades her thoughts and her room as she often fears that Peril: something bad or awful is just around the corner.


Her mother’s experiences have left a marked imprint on her whether outside but definitely within her every though and movement at times. Far of people, the tenant leaving and moving his store, having to remain quiet during the day not to disturb him you get the feeling that their lives are run by others as they were during the war. Hoods or motorcycle gangs invaded the neighborhood, encounters with the hoods, threats and one young girl who stands up for her brother against all odds. Going back in time the author describes the German ammunitions factory and their way of eliminating nonproductive workers. For those who think it did not happen think long and hard and think again. Three Chapters are devoted to God and the author shares her Sundays with the reader as she attends Hebrew School, (which I loved) the lessons, the teachers, learning about Moses and the Ten Commandments, and the foods that lined the tables and the smells that filled the air. Can you smell the delicious soup being made, the white candles that were lit, hear the prayers made over the candles and the special breads and deserts handmade and some bought. Family owned businesses, some more exciting than others, Perlmutter’s bakery, Women’s Bakery and are vividly described as Pearl just wanted to fit in, be noticed and feel she mattered. The debut of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, Top Gigio the Italian Mouse made up another part of her Sundays plus movies like White Christmas, teens and how they changed the neighborhood, and more about the war described on pages 98-101.


Watching, learning, observing and remembering including her own rite of passage, the way they celebrated Hanukkah, the fruit, the music and the disappointments she relates the introduction of instant coffee and the changing neighborhood all comprise the memories that Pearl Goodman shares with the reader. Parents that made ends meet and money that was tightly budgeted and few luxuries afforded so imagine her excitement when she finally got a bike. Some of the things that her brother did to her were hilarious including the adding something special to her chocolate drink. Then Indian sunburns and other things they did that made them brother, sister and really close. Some funny others just payback or revenge the one normal relationship she had was with him.


Family dynamics often change and her brother and father’s relationship frayed and was fragile. Issues about grades, school, and harsh words spoken on both sides and one young girl caught in the middle trying to have a relationship with both. With her brother trying to create his own personal image, his own pedigree and claiming he was adopted and going off on diatribes and tangents about it. Going to camp he made friends with many rich kids. As a camp counselor at Camp Tamaran he socialized with sons of important fathers. He was friends with staff and campers and seems to love life outside of Ontario. Pearl’s experience in camp was not the same but she loved it. No night terrors, dreams, nightmares and living in the same room or bunk with 13 other kids on cots was like living in a dorm. She loved it. Teen fun, smoking m swimming, inhaling and exhaling smoke and many other experiences are described plus learning the true meaning of what some really mean girls are called and the definitions behind them in chapter 19. But, the author goes back in time to January of 1945 and what she relates about the prisoners, the death camps, and two vignettes that her father told her will give you more than just chills or nightmares. Imagine emaciated figures, imagine hollow eyes, imagine being rounded up on foot. Imagine hearing planes flying and wanting to know if they were here to liberate you. Were they here to kill those on ground? What would the end result be? The second story tells of the Soviets freeing the prisoners to learn more read it on pages 163-165.


Discussions about Civil Rights, wrongs, Dr. King and Malcolm X fill Chapter 21 as the 60’s was an interesting time filled with Woodstock, civil unrest, many assassinations, prejudice and music that would change the complexion of what we listened to on television and in our homes. Musicals like Showboat, singers like Belafonte, even her mother thought many of these men wonderful. Pearl includes the right of passage, many sexual issues, and parties, socializing and slow dancing. Imagine asking her own mother if she could have a party in her house and that she could handle it all. But, her mother said in Yiddish how she felt, her feelings towards having anyone black invited and you can almost tell her answers and her feelings from the conversation. The end result the conversation got out of hand, misconceptions and misunderstandings and of course no party. Read her diary entry on page 202 to learn how she really feels about her parents when she explodes on paper. Her brother moved away, life went on, music filled many homes but in hers it was chosen for her. Freedoms were few, her parents remained steadfast and one incident would remind her mother of the camps.  


As the final chapters bring the past full circle into the present as the author shares September 1945 and her parents marriage, surviving the camps and starting their lives. Hoping to fin their way to freedom and what they hoped with is their haven, as they make it to Italy. The stories that unfold, the hardships they continue to face and the boat they are hurdled into will help you understand the struggles they faced from the beginning, their endurance and the reasons behind their actions in the present. But, they went from one camp and wound up in another as you will learn and read about on pages 230- 235. Racism is not something that her parents were immune to, as you will learn.


The final chapters talk about their departure to Canada, her mother’s Yiddishisms, and her mother being summoned to testify as the key witness fro the prosecution in the trial of a Nazi war criminal. This book brings to light the fact that the war and what happened never left her parent’s minds for one minute, having to face the past in the present difficult and many secrets come out that you will learn for yourself when you take the journey back in time with Pearl and understand what her parents endured, the life she would have liked to have lived and the one she did live with in constant fear of Peril. This is one story that I am truly honored to have been asked to read and review.


Fran Lewis


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