Pomeranski; ducking and diving in post-war London
- Credit: Archant
Muswell Hill author Gerald Jacobs drew on his childhood in 1950s Brixton for his tale of colourful characters dealing in swag, gun-running, and fixed boxing matches
When he’s not editing the book pages of the Jewish Chronicle, Gerald Jacobs is writing his own contribution to the literary canon.
The Muswell Hill journalist has penned successful non-fiction books including Sacred Games, the story of a Hungarian Holocaust survivor.
Then in 2016 he translated his parents’ experience into a novel; Nine Love Letters, which told the tale of two refugee families whose lives unexpectedly converge in post-war London.
His latest, Pomeranski, once again delves into family history and is set amid the shady and colourful characters of 1950s and 60s Brixton, where his parents ran a jewellery shop.
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“They had a shop inside an arcade and I used to have great fun running around with my friends. Most of the shop owners were Jewish - at the time it was quite a Jewish area with a synagogue, a butcher, a delicatessen.
“Today it’s very multi-cultural, Brixton Village with lots of hipster cafes, but it wasn’t like that in my day.”
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Jacobs also recalls the “colourful characters” of his childhood in a story set amid the seedy glamour of post-war Britain, of jazz clubs, poverty, and gangsters like Benny ‘the fixer’ Pomeranski, a book-loving auto-didact who is among a group of ‘businessmen’, who meet in the Astoria Cafe.
They trade in ‘swag’, dabble in illicit business, and exercise their own brand of justice. There are undercurrents of violence, but also familial love and loyalty in a story which involves a passionate love affair, smuggled firearms, fixed boxing matches, and “at least one murder”.
“All the characters are invented,” says Jacobs, “but the context is real.”
“Quite a few came from the East End, grew up in poverty and some were called up.”
Sensitive and idealistic, after serving in World War II, Benny has become a fast-talking entrepreneur in the rag trade.
These outsiders like ‘Spanish’ Joe, and Sam ‘the Stick’ are striving to make their way in an unfriendly world but believe their robberies and attacks are directed at those who deserve it.
“Benny thinks of himself more as Robin Hood than Al Capone - he doesn’t see himself as being on the wrong side of the law, and you wouldn’t quite call the group a gang. He is not a violent man himself but is not beyond it, he is very intelligent but has no education. He left school at 14 to help his parents out but would have gone to university, and sees life though a kind of bright prism, as the centre of this gathering of people with all these different talents.”
This deep thinking and feeling man loves his wife but “falls head over heels” for nightclub singer Estelle.
The novel opens with Benny’s funeral and the acquisition of his diaries by son Simon. They plunge him back into his father’s chequered hinterland, unravelling the passionate affair that has overshadowed his family life but lead to a touching reconciliation.
Pomeranski is published by Quartet price £16.