Checking out sequels by two favourite writers
Tags: Eric McMillan, Toronto Reads, Books, Column
November 26, 2013
The Newcomers by Lily Poritz Miller
The Newcomers, Lily Poritz Miller, Sumach Press,
trade paperback $19.95.
When last seen, the Hoffman family of widowed Sara and her children
had survived and triumphed — in their way — in a strange new country:
post-war, racist South Africa.
We left them, at the end of In a Pale Blue Light, looking forward to a
move to another strange new country: the United States.
Toronto writer Lily Poritz Miller’s continuation of that 2010 novel’s story
both delights and disappoints.
The Newcomers picks up almost immediately after the end of In a Pale
Blue Light but stands on its own without requiring knowledge of what
happened earlier in the immigrant saga. Miller goes out of her way to fill
in the relevant themes of that earlier venture, some of which do continue
to reverberate in this one.
For once again, the Hoffmans are outsiders in a new country. In a twist on
the usual immigrant tale though, the discrimination they experience in
the small New England city they set up in is not wrought by any Anglo-
Saxon majority, rather by their own Jewish community. Sara’s
businessman brother, who had arrived in America many years earlier,
gains status in the community by posing as the family’s saviour,
spreading the false image of them as ignorant and impoverished, relying
on his charity to survive.
Libka, the spunky daughter of the previous novel, is again at the centre
of the drama, now the victim of an abusive family for whom she babysits
and the subject of vicious gossip in the community. While she is courted
by rich young men who admire her looks, she grows interested in
another outcast: a boy with mental issues.
This is another tale of a family coming together to overcome adversity in
difficult circumstances, but this time the battle seems too easily won. The
adversity seems to just dissipate in the face of the Hoffmans’
determination. It’s a lovingly detailed, inspirational story without any
serious jeopardy, and so it lacks the emotional wallop of its predecessor.
Still, The Newcomers is an enjoyable, engrossing revelation of a time,
place and lives we did not know before, for which we can