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Book Club

We Were Strangers Once by Betsy Carter - Reviewed by Elayne Clift

“historically accurate, warm, moving and easy to recommend.”

In this well-paced and enjoyable historical novel a Jewish doctor meets an Irish animal lover and hangs out with his best friend and other immigrants fleeing WWII atrocities in upper Manhattan. As the story unfolds the degradations they suffer bind them in ways that only similar experiences and disillusion can. Still, with one exception, their spirits rise above their trials and tribulations, most of the time, allowing for a cautious and credible denouement.

Egon Schneider, son of world-renowned naturalists and a respected ophthalmologist, has escaped Germany and now works as the “Cheese Man” in a Washington Heights grocery store.

Catrina Harty, who has already suffered great losses, has left Ireland in search of a better life in America. She works for the ASPCA where she lovingly prepares dogs for euthanasia, perhaps a metaphor for what is about to happen in Hitler’s concentration camps.

And the acerbic writer Meyer Leavitt, who has also escaped persecution in Europe, is reduced to wearing a sandwich board on a New York street corner, at least until he starts writing commentary for a local Jewish newspaper.

He is the most disillusioned of the lot. When Egon tries to console him one day he retorts, “God, I’m sick of us. We’ve become exactly what they wanted: insular, separate, our own little ghetto. We kiss everyone’s ass all week, and by the weekend we hate ourselves so much that we turn on each other because we’re all we’ve got.”

Originally published in new york journal of books, the web's most comprehensive professional book review. Reviews of other books are available at:

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