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309 pages, Hardcover
First published July 7, 2020
Florence was not on that boat, would never arrive in France. He would not find her on the shores of the English Channel or at the Hygeia [pool] or even on the beaches of Atlantic City. He looked over at Stuart, who was openly weeping as he watched the boat disappear from view. Maybe Joseph’s daughter was to be found in the people who loved her.Florence Adler was a strong young woman with a dream. A successful competitive swimmer, she wanted to take on the challenge of swimming the English Channel. “Trudy Ederle did it in a little over fourteen hours. I’m hoping to do it in under twelve.” While training for that feat in the ocean off Atlantic City, Florence, inexplicably, drowns. Terrible, awful, sad news. Florence’s older sister, Fannie, had a miscarriage the year before. She is pregnant again, but in the hospital with some complications. Desperate to spare her the emotional trauma of hearing of the death of her little sister, with its potential for impacting this pregnancy, Esther and Joseph Adler decide to keep the information from her until she has delivered her baby. And the die is cast. How to keep Fannie from knowing the truth before she can complete her pregnancy safely.
The story of Florence Adler and her family is based on the true story of a young woman named Florence Lowenthal. She was my great, great aunt. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about Florence’s drowning or about the family’s decision to keep her death a secret from her older sister, who was pregnant and on hospital bedrest. My mother and grandmother spoke of the decision—unequivocally—as the right thing to do, but I always wondered how that secret affected both mother and daughter and whether there might have been another way forward. - from the B&N bookclub versionOnce the stage is set, the characters drive the story. We see most of these folks through their relationship with Florence, who quits the scene pretty early in the book, but also get a back (and front) story for them as well. Anna is the daughter of a woman Joseph had grown up with in Hungary. Esther is suspicious of her, resentful of family resources being spent on a stranger, whose relationship to her husband was not entirely clear. It is through Anna’s travails that we get a look at some of the horrors entailed in Jews trying to flee Nazi Germany for the states. It is 1934 and Nazis demand that Jews wanting to emigrate leave all their capital in Germany, while the USA was insisting that they be able to prove that they would not become dependent on the state. Joseph Heller would recognize this particular catch. There are some other machinations involved in the immigration process of the time that were entirely news to me. Anna takes a shine to Stuart after the accident, and asks for swimming lessons. Seems too soon, but there are powerful forces driving her need. Of course, she really, really likes Stuart, and he has become suddenly, if tragically, available.
Children could be so mean. She [Esther] remembered thinking so when she was raising her own girls. They were often too honest, the words they chose too blunt. Their worlds were big and bold and colorful but they were not yet able to distinguish that colors had values, that words had nuance. They described the people around them as old or young, ugly or beautiful, fat or thin, never recognizing that there were kinder, gentler, more forgiving words that lay in between. Sometimes, when Gussie talked about Florence’s death, so matter-of-factly, Esther couldn’t help but feel like she’d been cut open, left exposed.But Gussie is pure of heart, and you will warm to her every time she crosses the page. Would be nice, however, if she didn’t wander off on her own so much. Tough on the nerves, that. She is smitten, as are many, with…
Florence and Fannie - sisters - spent their summers living above their parents' bakery.
"How many people know about...Florence?"
Eventually people felt so weighed down by the yoke of their own bad decisions that they could scarcely move.But deciding to keep a secret, and actually doing it are two different things.