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Marvin Blauer

Family history makes novel- Review of Book by Former Winnipegger Marvin Blauer

by CYNTHIA RAMSAY, Editor, Vancouver Jewish Independent


[Reprinted with permission from the Vancouver Jewish Independent]

In his first novel, Marvin Blauer invigorates and expands upon the generic “boy-meets-girl story” by basing Struggle: A Quest for Life, Love and a New World (Winnetka Press-Publications, 2011) on family and world history. With the social and political commentary that runs throughout the text, as well as the book’s numerous additional features, Struggle is a robust work, not only from a literary point of view but from an archival perspective.

As Blauer explains in one of the post-narrative sections of the novel, Struggle was an idea 40 years in the making, from the time that his father gave him an English translation of his First World War diary. Accompanying the translation was a short note from his father, as it was written:
“Now I am in a new country and a new continent, a new kind of environment. I am busy to learn the new language and a new trade and I am busy to get establisht in this new land and I don’t know why I stopt writing my memories. It would have been more interesting my diary from the time I came here, up till now. The truth is, that nobody to whom I showed my shaby diary ever asket me to re-write it in English, on till my son Marvin, asket me, ‘why don’t you write that in English, I would like to read it.’ That time, it came to my mind, I should do it. And so, I have re-written it in English, I had many more stories about me in war but that time I had no paper to write, so who is interested to know how I have lived thrugh the first world war, can find out by reading my poor speled diary....”
After reading the diary and that note, Blauer writes, “A feeling of satisfaction came over me – satisfaction that I knew a lot more about the two fascinating people that were my parents and satisfied also that, having learned what I had, I would be able to pass it on one day so their memory, unlike that of the world they came from and so much of their families, would not be cut off and lost.”
The existence of Struggle should ensure that Blauer’s parents’ stories, which, as the book’s jacket notes, “typify those of the 700-year-old Jewish community of Eastern Europe,” survive. A quick web search reveals that Blauer has already undertaken many speaking engagements in relation to his novel, despite its recent release, providing preliminary evidence that he will succeed in this regard. He should also be commended, however, on simply telling a good, if long, story.
A native of Montreal, Blauer has lived in Ottawa for many years. He is a retired professor of political science and a former cabinet-level public servant in provincial and federal governments. While he is not an experienced novelist, he is a veteran writer and storyteller. In addition to being a commentator on current affairs for various publications, he has several unpublished collections.
In Struggle, Blauer combines his lifelong interest in Jewish history – history in general, really – with the desire to preserve his family history. The novel is set during the First World War, though it covers periods before and after that, and its narrative crosses several borders, traveling through Galicia and Vienna, among other places, and ending up in Canada. We first meet Blauer’s mother’s family, the Dicksteins, but Blauer is quick to bring his parents together. On page five, their relationship begins:
“In the summer of 1914, Chava (or as she now insisted, ‘Eva’ – a version of Chava that she had learned was all the rage in America) turned 17 and her blossoming beauty added to Freda’s [her mother’s] worries. It also attracted a growing circle of adolescent admirers, including a wiry young country boy [(Henry) Munya Blauer] from the Austro-Hungarian province of Eastern Galicia, who was staying with his married sister on his way to Hamburg and a steamship that would take him to a new life in America.
“Motele [Eva’s father] secretly smiled at what he was sure was a blossoming romance. Lately, he infuriated Freda by repeatedly inviting the bumpkin to their house, by spending hours discussing the Talmud with this ‘nobody from nowhere’ and by remarking on the boy’s spirit and real, if somewhat untutored, intelligence – all the while ignoring the realities that fathers of marriageable daughters should concentrate on.
“Freda restrained herself. If she had not confirmed the boy’s ticket to America via her own sources, more direct action would have been taken.”
As the adage goes, “Mentsch tracht, Gott lacht” (“Man plans, God laughs”). Munya never made it to his new life in America, and Freda would have to come to accept him as part of her family. The First World War intervened, taking both Eva and Munya in separate directions, though they kept in touch via letters, visits and even a spell when they were both living in Vienna.
In a romanticized, though historically loyal, version of their two stories, readers witness the lovers’ bravery and how they cope with the events of the First World War – from some of which they benefited, such as the lack of workers, so that Munya could find jobs and eventually well-paying work in the shmatte business (for which he was trained) in Vienna; but much of which affected them harshly, such as Munya having to join the fighting and Eva, with the others who were able to remain in their villages (i.e. weren’t killed or forced to flee) having to deal with various soldiers, depending on which army happened to have taken over which area that day.
Both Eva and Munya experience great losses in the war, Munya in particular. Not only was there the fighting with which to deal, but also typhus and other diseases, destroyed homes and infrastructure, a lack of clean water, food shortages and other circumstances that accompany such conflicts.
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.