Phyllis Gotlieb Anne Montagnes - Essay

Anne Montagnes

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Most of the people in [Why Should I Have All the Grief?] have come together to a small Ontario town near Galt to sit in mourning for the hero's uncle, a Jew from a Polish village who got out before the war and has now even a teenage grandson to help mourn for him. If you've ever sat shiva you'll know it's like a T-group….

Mrs. Gotlieb uses this ancient sensitivity session to work on her hero, Heinz Dorfman, one of the orphans who came to foster homes in Toronto after the war. (p. 36)

Whether or not non-Jews will be able to understand what has frozen Heinz is a puzzle. The one thing that it is not—and this makes the novel unique—is his experience in Auschwitz. What the novel is about is Jewish poverty and miserliness in a Polish village, about the blue velvet bag with the gold star that holds the tallith and the tefillin for religious services, about love and hate between fathers and sons, and about a religion of money versus a religion of tradition.

While the glass is shattering around Heinz' emotions at the shiva, his wife in Toronto is making a last search, in old foster homes and with his brother over the long-distance telephone, for her husband's personality. Mrs. Gotlieb does a journeyman's job of juggling these two scenes faster and faster until they merge as one ball. She is less light-handed in the flashbacks. (pp. 36, 38)

The novel can be a big unwieldy form. This one is by no means perfect, but it's only too genuine…. (p. 38)

Anne Montagnes, "Books in Review: 'Why Should I Have All the Grief?'" (copyright © 1969 by Saturday Night; reprinted by permission of the author), in Saturday Night, Vol. 84, No. 5, May, 1969, pp. 36, 38.