Bertrand Court

  • Review
By – September 28, 2016

The sev­en­teen sto­ries that make up Michelle Brafman’s new nov­el, Bertrand Court, form a tight­ly woven tale of a large fam­i­ly and their cir­cle of friends. While many of the sto­ries have been pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished, col­lec­tive­ly they pro­vide more nuanced por­traits of these rel­a­tives, best friends, and lovers past and present. The cen­tral fam­i­ly, Jew­ish in her­itage and tra­di­tions, reflects the diver­si­ty of con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish Amer­i­can life. 

Told chrono­log­i­cal­ly from the 1930s to the present, these sto­ries allow read­ers to grasp the emo­tion­al­ly charged, life-chang­ing issues that pro­pel this cast of char­ac­ters for­ward. Braf­man cov­eys their long­ing for sexy, respon­si­bil­i­ty-free rela­tion­ships along with their deter­mi­na­tion to be mean­ing­ful­ly and lov­ing­ly part­nered for life. It is easy to empathize with the Solon­sky family’s grief and jeal­ousy, as well as the chal­lenges that affect past and future generations.

Sylvia’s Spoon” tells the sto­ry of a small sil­ver spoon inscribed with a Hebrew hey, meant to be hand­ed down to each young woman in the fam­i­ly as she car­ries a baby to the next gen­er­a­tion. Han­nah Solon­sky, wait­ing for her turn, says, I imag­ine this spoon has sur­vived pogroms and a long pas­sage to Ellis Island, and I want to siphon its for­ti­tude for my baby.” The image of this small, nur­tur­ing token reap­pears through­out the book.

In Skin,” Eric Solon­sky and his non-Jew­ish wife eat take-out on Yom Kip­pur, the very day before their first son’s brit. Ten­sions and antic­i­pa­tion begin to rise. By the end of the next day, Eric, with baby Alec peace­ful­ly asleep, imag­ines the future and vows to fast next Yom Kip­pur, not for his father or to prove any­thing to Mag­gie, but for Alec — and for himself.”

In Mol­ly Flan­ders,” Mol­ly meets her neigh­bor Bec­ca Can­tor on a rainy evening in Bertrand Court, when she over­hears her chant­i­ng an ancient melody. Learn­ing of Becca’s adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion and sub­se­quent obser­vance, Mol­ly is imme­di­ate­ly trans­port­ed back twen­ty years to the day her best friend became a bat mitz­vah. Expe­ri­enc­ing the beau­ti­ful reli­gious cer­e­mo­ny, and com­par­ing it to her own fam­i­ly and her­itage, she remem­bers think­ing, What could pos­si­bly mean more than hav­ing a bat mitz­vah?” Her life­long yearn­ing for such spir­i­tu­al abun­dance comes bar­rel­ing back when Bec­ca shows Mol­ly her grandfather’s prayer shawl and says, When I wear this, I can prac­ti­cal­ly feel gen­er­a­tions of Jews pass­ing right through my soul. I can feel God.”

The thread of Jew­ish cul­ture that runs through Brafman’s nov­el is both respect­ful­ly provoca­tive and lov­ing­ly integrated.These grace­ful, insight­ful sto­ries are a tes­ta­ment to our com­pli­cat­ed lives and impor­tance of fam­i­ly and friends.

Relat­ed Content:

    Pen­ny Metsch, MLS, for­mer­ly a school librar­i­an on Long Island and in New York City, now focus­es on ear­ly lit­er­a­cy pro­grams in Hobo­ken, NJ.

    Discussion Questions