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BOARDINGHOUSE STEW is set in a seedy, down-at-heel boardinghouse in Sacramento, California in 1943. Due to an acute labor shortage caused by the evacuation of all Japanese from the area, as well as many domestic workers preferring war work to house work, the proprietress is forced to hire a young schoolgirl named Eileen as maid and cook for the summer. Through one crisis after another — some more comic than tragic — the people who live in the house manage to pull together and become a kind of family. In the ...
BOARDINGHOUSE STEW is set in a seedy, down-at-heel boardinghouse in Sacramento, California in 1943. Due to an acute labor shortage caused by the evacuation of all Japanese from the area, as well as many domestic workers preferring war work to house work, the proprietress is forced to hire a young schoolgirl named Eileen as maid and cook for the summer. Through one crisis after another — some more comic than tragic — the people who live in the house manage to pull together and become a kind of family. In the center of it all is Eileen, narrating their stories which she is able to observe from her unique vantage point behind the swinging kitchen door that never quite closes on its rusty hinges.
Posted March 3, 2010
Boardinghouse Stew is not only a delightful and entertaining book, it is also an accurate depiction of how things were at a very dangerous time in our history and a timely reminder of how things could become in our present somewhat dysfunctional society,
Given the dates and her age, I calculate that I was about eight years old when she was eleven and I remember the times well. Her characters are honest and alive: I knew them all, except they lived in eastern Kentucky instead of Sacramento Ca.. Her descriptions of the events are sincere and revealing.
My grandfather was an air-raid warden in Harlan, Kentucky; nobody considered how ridiculous the notion was that the Japs and Krauts would bomb eastern Kentucky. It was just the prudent and patriotic thing to do. My brother and I looked forward to seeing his helmet and gas mask when we visited during the Christmas seasons, and we were proud beyond description of our grandfather's playing such an important role in the war effort. \
The conventional wisdom at the time was that the Japs and the Krauts were to be hated, no matter whether they were in America or across the seas. We felt only relief when we heard that the Japs in California were being put into concentration camps. Although there were many neighbors who were of German decedent( the Millers, Kellers, Schmidts, Meyers, Shafers, Hartmans and Lehmanns, to name a few,) their names had become so much a part of the American scene that we did not consider thinking of them as potential traitors. The Schweingubber family in our small community, however, even though their family had been in the country as long as the others, were treated badly, not only by us kids but by adults as well. Schwein, we knew from the Saturday matinees, meant "pig" in German. We did not know that "Grubber" meant "cultivator" and hence that they were historically "pig farmers." Even without that knowledge we treated them as badly as if we knew they were. Pig farmers in eastern Kentucky were respected but these Germans were not. Germans across the country were the victims of such misunderstanding. A sensitive tale of a group of lovable people makes these aspects of the times memorable and understandable.
Anyone in my age group will enjoy reminiscing about those times . Ms. Smith's writing style is most readable and pleasantly flowing, perhaps as the result of her being a playwright, and makes the return trip a joyful experience. Those who are much younger should read the book, not only for enjoyment but to gain an insight into how things can be when hatred, fear, paranoia and ignorance abound. But, I am afraid I have made the book sound too heavy. That is certainly not the case. It is first and foremost an enjoyable and delightful reading experience.