Saturday, August 3, 2013

Book Review: The Man With Many Hats

The Man With Many Hats begins with a delightful account of a childhood with an amazingly warm and generous man for a father. It speaks of life in Kolkata in the fifties and the sixties, and the unique perspective of life in a Jewish home. The protagonist, Rachel, a sunny and bubbly young girl, tells the tale of life in the Selman home, a home that is peopled by many wonderful characters, including several vistors from across the globe. Her grandmother, Mozelle, visits their home  every week, even carrying her own drinking water, as she feels that her daughter's home is not sufficiently observant of Jewish traditions.  She also teaches her grandchildren Hebrew, which young Rachel does not enjoy learning, especially because she is sure that an All Knowing God  would surely understand English!!!!!  Young Rachel's childhood is magical and brings back warm memories of my own, of studying in a convent school and wanting to be a Catholic, for one! Rachel has a close knit group of  friends, a warm and loving family, a comfortable, privileged upper class existence- what could possibly go wrong? Her father's infidelity destroys the idyllic family life enjoyed by the Selmans, and major changes occur in all their lives. Rachel goes abroad for her higher education, and her mother and brother, Jacob, move to Israel. Morris Selman remains in Kolkata,  living life, as always, on his own terms, but their home has changed forever.
Living and studying abroad, Rachel becomes aware of her unique identity as an Indian and a Jew. She also takes a keen interest in the movements for social change that were then sweeping across India.
Rachel's story, of love, loss, some unexpectedly warm relationships, and immense personal growth, intersperses with that of her father's life, and the troubled paths they traverse before reaching a place of  forgiveness and reconciliation.
It also gives us valuable glimpses of the history of the community of Baghdadi Jews  that has been part of Kolkata since the latter part of the eighteenth century.  Although there are now very few members of this community left in the city, the heritage remains in some place names and some beautiful historic buildings, traces of the immense economic contribution the Baghdadi Jews made to their adopted country.
Each chapter heading has been beautifully illustrated by the author, who, like her protagonist's father, also wears many hats. (More about her in a later post).

The Man With Many Hats by Jael Silliman,
Published by Jael Silliman, 2013
Price: Rs. 295
Available on Flipkart, and Amazon India


Banno said...

How you make me spend money, Dipali. This sounds really nice, specially for its background.

dipali said...

@Banno: Money well spent! I'm sure you will love this.

Mamma Mia Me a Mamma said...

I am still reading the book. I love her style of writing. It's a very warm book, that is easy to get lost in.

dipali said...

@M4: It is indeed!

yasmeen sait said...

Thanks for this book Dipali. Sounds interesting ...I am going to start reading it soon.

dipali said...

@yasmeen: Do let me know how you find it!!!

Hip Grandma said...

Must get hold of the book. I haven't read any books that offer insight into the lifestyle of the Jewish community exct one by Rabbi Boteach.

dipali said...

@Hip Grandma: Do, you will enjoy it!

Sue said...

I look forward to reading it, thanks.