In 1972, human remains with a Jewish mezuzah were found in a well in Pottstown, PA, in a section referred to as Chicken Hill. The area had been a neighborhood where Black families lived side by side Jewish and European immigrants. But when the body was found, only one Jewish man remained, and the area was marked for redevelopment. The story shifts back to 1925 where Moshe Ludlow is finding success booking acts for a dance hall. At first, he catered to a Jewish clientele. But he started booking popular jazz musicians with a wider appeal and an opportunity to integrate the theater - something the racist city leaders did not embrace. Moshe's wife Chona ran the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, which would have been a success had she not extended credit to her neighbors, most unable to pay her back. A Black couple, Nate and Addie Timblin, not only worked for Moshe and Chona, but were their close friends. They asked the Ludlows to help care for Dodo, their orphaned nephew. Dodo lost his hearing in an accident, but people assumed he was also lacking intelligence. Chona, who could not bear children, adored caring for Dodo. But when the authorities sought to send Dodo to a horrible state institution, the community bands together to keep him hidden.
This synopsis just scratches the surface on this moving book. I loved The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store. James McBride's impressive saga touched me deeply. This is a complex drama, but it's also sprinkled with humor. Each of the characters add to the depth of the story, which moves a bit slower than I am used to. And for good reason. The story is told by a narrator and the cultural differences of the individuals are well expressed. I was amazed and impressed with the Yiddish expressions placed so perfectly in the novel. It's important to note that McBride's father was an African American minister, and his mother was a Jewish immigrant from Poland who was raised by an Orthodox rabbi. While his mother converted to Christianity during her marriage, the author clearly learned a lot about his Jewish roots. McBride is also a noted musician and composer. What a talent!
And what about the skeleton found at the beginning of the book? When all is revealed, you realize that the story was not really about how and why this person died, but about how extremely interesting people lived. It's heartbreaking and heart-warming all in one. Don't miss it.
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.
Historical Fiction | Literary Fiction.
Publication Date: August 5, 2023.
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