Review by Sylvia D:
At the age of six Isaac Noller is taken to Berlin by his uncle when his parents are killed in the pogroms in Poland in 1873. Isaac grows up to become a partner in his uncle’s merchandising business. He marries an English girl, Rose, and they have five children: Max who goes to establish a branch of the business in London; Dan who moves to New York; the patriotic Jacob who becomes estranged from his family and joins the Nazis; the handsome and idealistic Stanislaus; and the baby of the family, the beautiful Miriam.
The family experience the horrors of the First World War in which Max, now married, is seriously wounded but recovers, and the growing menace of anti-semitism and Fascism in interwar Berlin. Isaac, Miriam and Stanislaus all suffer at the hands of the Nazis but are either rescued or escape. Most members of the family then play their part in the Second World War, fighting in the forces and working to help others escape from persecution. Everyone survives apart from Rose who, already in ill-health, dies from a heart attack when her husband and son are arrested by the Nazis and the black sheep, Jacob, who is accorded a grand Nazi funeral, “either liquidated or advised to liquidate himself” (p.240).
Although it spans some eighty years, The Morning Will Come is more a family saga than historical fiction. It seems to be yet another of those novels of the period (1953) that were so popular in their time but fail to work for the modern reader. True, the themes it addresses – tyranny, anti-semitism – are still pertinent today but it lacks the necessary depth to really strike home. The narrative section which describes how six year old Isaac Noller is saved from the pogroms in Poland in 1873 in which his parents perish and his subsequent boyhood and marriage in Berlin seems rather stilted and the reader is left gasping as the years from the birth of his first child, Max, to the end of the First World War are galloped through in the space of twelve pages.
My interest was only really caught when Jacob follows the fortunes of four of Isaac’s five children in the interwar period – Max with his prosperous middle-class family and his unfulfilled love affair with a beautiful Italian aristocrat in London, Dan who moves to New York and pops in and out of the narrative in bouncy fashion at critical moments, the beautiful Miriam who suffers at the hands of the autocratic Nazi, Von Kessel, but finally finds domestic happiness, and the handsome, fun loving Stanislaus whose horrific treatment by the Nazis turns him into a thoughtful, committed man determined to help and acknowledge others. There is little insight into the story of the middle child, Jacob, who never seems to fit in with the rest of the family and himself becomes a high-ranking official in the Nazi Party. Even from boyhood he is always portrayed as cold and impassionate:
“Jacob stood apparently unmoved, his eyes looked curiously dead, like those of a fish too long out of water. There was something inhuman in his expression of complete withdrawl. He stared at his brother as if he had never known him, as if Max belonged to another world. He looked cruel – not angry – but coldly cruel” (p.78).
Nevertheless, these rather sterotypical characters don’t really have true credibility. Most of the women are portrayed as passive or victims. Everything is too conveniently contrived, the dialogue can be rather awkward and I found Naomi Jacob’s attempts to write in accents annoying.
However, it is the background of rising Fascism and anti-semitism in interwar Germany and the horrific consequences for Jewish lives that gives the story its poignancy. Naomi Jacob’s message is of the need for tolerance, compassion, kindness and working for what you believe in.
Known as “Mickey”, Naomi Jacob herself was an eccentric and multi-faceted woman who wrote over 80 books, both fiction and non-fiction, with many of her novels rooted in her Jewish heritage. The Morning Will Come is ambitious both in its historical sweep and the issues it addresses but somehow she doesn’t quite pull it off.
Sounds like a novel that had the potential to be good but didn’t really make it – shame, because the subject matter is an important topic and she presumably had the history herself.
Yes, it was based on her own life, which itself sounded fascinating. Jacob also wrote many memoirs, so perhaps they are worth a go? George Simmers emailed me to say that she appears in ‘Three Queer Lives’ by Paul Bailey
(Hers is the middle one of the three), and it is very entertaining about her rather extraordinary life. As for the novels, Bailey writes: ‘ My own favourite of her novels is the thumpingly terrible Barren Metal, if only because it contains the
sentence “They ate a very admirable cauliflower.”‘
Barren Metal is worth a read, a book that deals with Jewish assimilation and published just before the war. Can’t say I value Paul Bailey’s opinions of Mickie but it is true she wrote most of her books with no or little editing as she felt she finished with a manuscript as soon as it had been completed whereas many other writers would have redrafted and finessed their manuscripts.
It is 50th years since her death on 27th August and may be a reason to revisit her. I can also recommend the Gollantz Saga as well.
Thanks Thomas. We have several more Jacob novels in the collection
so hopefully will have some more reviews in the future.