Last Sum­mer at the Gold­en Hotel

By – May 13, 2021

The won­der­ful thing about Elyssa Friedland’s new nov­el Last Sum­mer at the Gold­en Hotel is how easy it is to empathize with the Gold­mans and Wein­golds — even for read­ers who have nev­er set foot in the Catskills — as they face the thorny ques­tion of whether to sell their beloved Gold­en Hotel, a once sought-after vaca­tion spot that has declined in pop­u­lar­i­ty and fall­en into disrepair.

For many years, the Catskills pro­vid­ed a wel­come escape from steamy New York sum­mers for Jews who were often unwel­come in oth­er resorts because of anti­semitism. Fea­tur­ing lav­ish meals, big-name tal­ent, and out­door sports, the Catskill hotels were a social and cul­tur­al mag­net for Jew­ish fam­i­lies who often returned year after year.

Fried­land writes with humor and pathos about a dilem­ma that was sure­ly faced by real-life Jew­ish hotel own­ers. Like the fic­tion­al Gold­mans and Wein­golds, many must have watched in dis­may as the catskills were desert­ed in favor of far-flung vaca­tion spots and pay­ing the exten­sive costs to keep up the grounds and sports facil­i­ties became increas­ing­ly difficult.

In Last Sum­mer at the Gold­en Hotel, fam­i­ly rival­ries, rela­tion­ships, and resent­ments come into play as the var­i­ous char­ac­ters try to fig­ure out if there is a way to sal­vage a place that — despite its increas­ing­ly decrepit facil­i­ties — remains a big part of their lives. Each chap­ter is writ­ten from anoth­er fam­i­ly member’s point of view, adding depth and per­spec­tive to the cen­tral deci­sion of the nov­el. Fried­land skill­ful­ly inter­spers­es light­heart­ed inci­dents — such as a salon appoint­ment that goes ter­ri­bly wrong — with seri­ous fam­i­ly prob­lems. In addi­tion, the char­ac­ter growth over the course of the nov­el is uplift­ing and powerful.

Elyssa Fried­land writes in an absorb­ing and enter­tain­ing style, mak­ing this the per­fect upbeat nov­el to reach for when life seems dif­fi­cult and confusing.

Shi­ra R. Lon­don is the librar­i­an at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Com­mu­ni­ty High School in Bal­ti­more, MD. She holds an M.L.S. from Colum­bia University.

Discussion Questions

1. Many char­ac­ters in the nov­el are strug­gling with feel­ings of aim­less­ness or a lack of direc­tion. What do you think is at the core of these feel­ings for each of them? Is there a char­ac­ter that deals with these feel­ings bet­ter than the oth­ers? Does any­one deal with these feel­ings par­tic­u­lar­ly badly?

2. At many points dur­ing the nov­el, chil­dren learn that their par­ents are imper­fect humans. Do you think the gen­er­a­tions are suf­fi­cient­ly for­giv­ing of one anoth­er? Are they able to learn from one another’s mis­takes, or are they stuck think­ing about their differences?

3. The secrets uncov­ered dur­ing the nov­el often struc­tured the char­ac­ters’ lives before they knew about them. Have you ever learned some­thing about your own life you were not aware of? How did you react, and do you think the char­ac­ters at the Gold­en Hotel react­ed productively?

4. How does age/​generation play a role in the rela­tion­ships formed and kept at the Gold­en Hotel?

5. What does the hotel rep­re­sent to the own­ers? To the mid­dle gen­er­a­tion? To the younger generation?

6. What do you think about fam­i­ly busi­ness­es? What are the advan­tages and dis­ad­van­tages of work­ing with fam­i­ly and friends?

7. While read­ing, did you find your­self want­i­ng the Gold­mans and Wein­golds to keep the hotel? Why or why not?

8. Where does the ten­sion between Louise and Fan­ny stem from?

9. How does the sib­ling dynam­ic between Bri­an and Peter grow­ing up shape who they become as adults?

10. Why does Bri­an man­age the Gold­en Hotel? Where does his attach­ment and com­mit­ment to the hotel come from?

11. What do you think the Gold­en Hotel says about tra­di­tion ver­sus change? How are we to bal­ance these values/​realities in our own lives?

12. What is lost when the Gold­mans and Wein­golds reach a deci­sion about the future of the hotel? What is gained?

For the full dis­cus­sion guide to Last Sum­mer at the Gold­en Hotel, click here.