Just Like That (novel)

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Just Like That (1994) is a novel by Lily Brett about Holocaust survivors in the United States. Up to a point, it is autobiographical: The author was born in Germany in 1946 and came to Melbourne, Australia with her parents in 1948. She is married to painter David Rankin; they have three children and currently live in New York. Very similar things can be said about the heroine of Brett's book, Esther Zepler.

Contents

Plot introduction

The novel chronicles the lives of a group of Jews - or rather, a Jewish family - in the U.S.A., in particular New York City, over a period of roughly seven months during 1991 and 1992. There is little action. Rather, the novel describes in greater detail the feelings of the protagonist and what goes on in her immediate surroundings. Most of the characters in the novel are Jewish, and the reader gets a vivid picture of the lives of assimilated Jews in the U.S.A. It is told by a third person narrator who is very close to Esther Zepler's thoughts. There are frequent flashbacks to both the distant and the not-so-distant past and numerous references to the Holocaust.

Plot summary

Edek Zepler is a Holocaust survivor who was born Edek Zeleznikow in Łódź, Poland in 1915, where his father owned several apartment blocks. He got married in the Łódź ghetto to Rooshka but had to marry her again after the war in a DP camp in Germany. That is where their daughter, Esther, was born in 1950. In 1951 the family emigrated to Melbourne, Australia. When the novel opens, Edek Zepler is an old man of 76 who certainly enjoys good food, a man living alone with his dog in the old house in Melbourne, feeling rather alone—in spite of an active Jewish community in his neighbourhood—and without any life in him since his wife's death in 1986 ("The saddest thing did already happen to me. My wife died. Nothing can be sad after that."). He regularly phones his family, who have moved to Manhattan. The only close relative still in Melbourne is his grandson, Zachary, who studies medicine there.

His life takes a decisive turn when, on a visit to New York, he meets Josl and Henia Borenstein again, a couple he last saw in the German DP camp. Now that Josl Borenstein has died of cancer, Edek and Henia gradually feel more and more attracted to each other. In spite of several (alleged) proposals of marriage from millionaires, Henia, herself a rich widow, wants to spend the rest of her life with Edek and invites him to stay with her at her Florida home. Eventually, Edek packs up all his things, sells his house and moves to the U.S.A. He is cordially taken up by Henia's friends, who belong to several associations (for example the Zionist Federation). Although mostly agnostic, he even pays an occasional visit to the synagogue.

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