It is the middle of the roaring '20s, and Gittel is living in The Hague with her parents, whose blazing rows are the traditional preserve of Sundays and public holidays. What luck, then, that Gittel is Jewish and must submit to 'the double helping of public holidays that is the lot of Jewish families'.
After every matrimonial slanging match, Gittel's mother runs off to her parents' home in Antwerp - with her daughter in tow. Much to her delight, Gittel makes the acquaintance of the well-to-do Mardell family, who allow her to practise on their Steinway.
Gittel feels that she is taken seriously by Mr Mardell, the head of the household, and by 30-year-old Lucie, whom she adores. When these friendships turn out to be nothing but an illusion, Gittel learns her first lessons about trust and betrayal. Her second comes soon after, when her father, whose talents for business leave much to be desired, attempts to make a quick killing in Berlin on the eve of the Wall Street crash.
Though this intimate portrayal of familial strife is set in the shadow of the Holocaust, Simons says little about the horror that awaits her characters, yet she succeeds in giving the listener the sense that the novel is about more than a young girl's loss of innocence. In a fluid, almost casual style, she has written a masterly and timeless ode to a relatively carefree interlude in a dark and dramatic period.
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