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“The Arnow family is utterly irresistible. É Their resilience É becomes a testament to the profound recuperative power of the human spirit. Swimming Toward the Ocean navigates important family territory with precision and warmth.” — Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Very exciting fiction indeed . . . Luminous with clear-sighted compassion for its imperfect characters” --Kirkus Reviews
1. In reconstructing her parents' lives, Devorah describes feelings and events of which she has no direct knowledge. Do her assumptions and interpretations undermine her reliability as a narrator? Are life stories, whether fictional, biographical, or autobiographical, ever completely "objective"?
2. Images of and references to water recur throughout Swimming Toward the Ocean. Does water serve as a metaphor in the novel? If so, for what?
3. In what ways do the Arnows represent the universal experience of immigrants in this country? How do their individual expectations affect their behavior toward one another? What goals, if any, do Chenia and Ruben share?
4. How do Chenia's superstitions and traditional beliefs influence the way she rears her children? What is the significance of the statement, "My mother's heart is bursting with affection for her son, but this she doesn't say" [p. 31]? In what ways are Mimi and Sheldon shaped by their mother's remoteness and lack of outward affection? Does Chenia treat Devorah differently, and if so, why?
5. Does Chenia provide Devorah and her siblings with the moral or ethical guidance we normally expect from parents? What values does she teach them? What role does Ruben play in the children's lives? How do the choices Devorah and Mimi make as grown, married women reflect their reactions to their parents' marriage and their own childhood experiences?
6. Despite her old-fashioned upbringing and her strong notions of sin and punishment, Chenia is irresistibly drawn to Harry. What makes her so vulnerable to him? How do the emotions and feelings he elicits transform the way she thinks aboutherself?
7. How would Chenia's life have been different if she had not met Harry? To what extent did the affair rescue her? In what ways did it make her life more difficult?
8. How do Devorah's descriptions of her mother's affair with Harry differ from her accounts of Ruben's infidelities with Trudy and Bertha? How do the specific events she recounts, as well as her tone, influence your impressions of their motivations and the depth of their feelings? Does she judge one parent more harshly than the other? Do you think she recognizes and understands her father's need to be with other women?
9. The setting plays an important role in Swimming Toward the Ocean. What physical details does Glickfeld use to evoke the period? Which cultural, social, and political references are most effective in illuminating the particular milieu of the Arnows, their friends, and extended family?
10. From Devorah's birth to Chenia's first encounter with Harry and Mimi's unlikely friendship with Sofie, the concepts of fate and coincidence are integral to the plot development of the novel. Does the author make these events credible? To what extent are the characters responsible for their own destinies and to what extent are their lives shaped by chance?
11. How does the life the Arnows have constructed for themselves differ from the other lives depicted in the novel? What do Glickfeld's portraits of Harry, Chenia's sister Ruchel and her husband, Trudy and Barney Fleisch, and Bertha Landau reveal about the process of assimilation? What factors, both practical and psychological, influence the various characters' ability to make a place for themselves in American society?
12. Does Chenia's story represent an experience that is typical of women of her generation? In what ways does she conform to society's rules and expectations? Other than her affair with Harry, what examples are there of her refusal to follow the rules? Do Ruben's behavior and attitude, as well as the limited options available to Chenia, justify acts which might otherwise seem selfish or immoral?
13. In imagining Chenia's reaction to seeing Harry at the theater years after she has made another life for herself, Devorah writes, "What is she thinking, that Harry will call her up and it will be as before? Even if she could love this man again, she thinks, she can never stop hating him" [p. 332]. In light of this, why does Chenia agree to meet with him? What does she hope will happen?
14. Chenia has three very different relationships in the course of the novel: her marriage to Ruben, her affair with Harry, and her marriage to Sol. How do each of these relationships illuminate Chenia's personality and her needs at different times in her life? Which relationship do you think best reflects the woman Chenia really is? The woman she wants to be?
15. Is the ending consistent with the spirit of the novel? Does it bring the relationship between Devorah and Chenia to an appropriate close? Does Devorah see similarities between her mother and herself? Does she fully forgive Chenia for the hurt she has caused?
16. What literary traditions (or genres) might you use to classify Swimming Toward the Ocean? Would you characterize it as a family saga? A love story? A coming-of-age novel?
Posted July 18, 2009
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Fascinating and intriguing and different and a must read. I really loved it and couldn't put it down. A different representation of what life for immigrant Jewish people....buy it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 12, 2001
I have been a fan of Carole Glickfeld¿s for some time now. When I discovered that Swimming Toward the Ocean was to be published in eight long months, it was all that I could do to prevent myself from calling up the bookstores and demanding that they push up their deadlines. I had already read Carole Glickfeld¿s first book of short stories, Useful Gifts, and could not wait to read something else by this gifted and talented author. The day I purchased Carole Glickfeld¿s novel, I read the first few pages while standing near the checkout counter and from that point on I could not put it down. Carole Glickfeld is so wise. I am so emotionally attached to her characters. I want to meet them on the street. I have questions for them. I love them. My mother also sailed through Swimming Toward the Ocean. On the phone she said, ¿Oh, Chenia¿what a character¿and she loved her children so much.¿ We spoke about the intricate lives of Chenia and her family for what could only have been more than an hour, and once I had hung up the phone, my husband asked, ¿Who were you talking about?¿ ¿Chenia,¿ I responded. ¿Do I know Chenia?¿ he asked. ¿No,¿ I answered and pointed to Carole Glickfeld¿s book. It¿s a hardback, the type of book one treasures. Let me tell you a little bit about Chenia, but not too much! Chenia is a Russian immigrant who is pregnant with her third child when the novel opens. Although she is married, Chenia has never experienced a loving relationship with her husband. What follows is a comical, intricate and unique description of Chenia¿s process of self-discovery, as told through the omniscient eyes of her youngest child. Chenia¿s unique personality is enhanced by the fact that her English is often spoken in a foreign syntax and peppered with Yiddish words throughout the novel. It is in this colorful manner that we are introduced to Brighton Beach, the Atlantic Ocean, the cloisters of Manhattan, the shoe store salesman, the opera, the underbelly of the Coney Island boardwalk, a factory fire, and the infidelities of a marriage. Chenia¿s fear of the evil eye, her superior wit and intelligence, her likeable and humane spirit, and her vivid sensuality and passion along with her compelling story make this a must read for men and women alike. I guarantee that you will cancel plans to finish Carole Glickfeld¿s novel and when you have read from cover to cover, you will mourn the loss of Chenia¿s world, considering her a dear and important friend.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 10, 2001
In all my years of reading, this is one of the few books that was very difficult to put down. It was a very moving book. I felt so close to Chenia that she became part of me. I felt her happiness and her sadness. I was there with her at the Cloisters,walking on Dyckman, taking the elevator down to the subway. I was totally submerged into her world. I wish I was able to read the book before my Mom past away last year. It would have provided a better insight to her upbringing and the traditional thoughts and feelings of her generation. It was a beautifully written story. I hung on to every word and was sorry it had to end. This is a book worth reading and I hope to see more books from this wonderful author.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
In 1953 Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, Russian-Jew Chenia Arnow agrees with her husband Ruben¿s pronouncement that they cannot afford a third child. Chenia tells the doctor no baby, as she knows they cannot afford a third child plus she is closing in on fifty. Though the doctor gives her a shot to cause a miscarriage, Chenia gives birth to Devorah. <P>Ruben decides to relocate the family by moving to Manhattan nearer to his lover Trudy. Chenia feels guilt for her own liaison with Harry and his ¿Magic Shoes¿. So a family begins to extend while the parents provide illicit lessons to the next generation on faithfulness, caring, and love. <P> SWIMMING TOWARDS THE OCEAN is a powerful look at a New York City Jewish family in the 1950s. The story line provides incredible insight into the era that it documents. The key players, Chenia and Ruben come to life through their reactions to her two affairs and his three affairs as seen through the eyes of Devorah, who narrates the story. In this realistic look back in time, Devorah¿s insightful knowledge of family matters that she would at best know few facts could destroy the feel of the plot, but instead opens the story line even wider. Whether the specifically of the events is true or not, Devorah the narrator believes them to be so and perhaps subconsciously filed in the gaps. Carole L. Glickfeld has written a superb tale that the boomers and probably their children will want to read. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 15, 2001
'Swimming Toward The Ocean' is hard to put down! It is a compelling story with strong characters that I really cared about. The story moves along rapidly and pulled me in from the first page. The descriptions and every day details are wonderful. I am an avid reader of contemporary fiction. 'Swimming Toward The Ocean' is a winner!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.