Swimming Toward the Ocean [NOOK Book]


Chenia Arnow is a Russian-Jewish immigrant in 1950s New York, a sharp-witted, Betty Grable look-alike whose accent and Old-World superstitions mask untapped passions and intellectual curiosity. Her husband Ruben is a handsome philanderer who has a knack for creating phony lawsuits. Their precocious daughter Devorah, tells–and often imagines–the richly involving story of their lives.
No one expects the devoted Chenia to fall under the spell of a lover of her own, but the Arnows'...
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Swimming Toward the Ocean

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Chenia Arnow is a Russian-Jewish immigrant in 1950s New York, a sharp-witted, Betty Grable look-alike whose accent and Old-World superstitions mask untapped passions and intellectual curiosity. Her husband Ruben is a handsome philanderer who has a knack for creating phony lawsuits. Their precocious daughter Devorah, tells–and often imagines–the richly involving story of their lives.
No one expects the devoted Chenia to fall under the spell of a lover of her own, but the Arnows' lives unfold in many surprises. In tart and seductive storytelling, Swimming Toward the Ocean follows husbands and wives and children through often shifting and misguided connections, illuminating the timeless patterns of immigrant life, and the search for love and a place in a new world.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Time Magazine
It's a small story the novel tells--but with sweetness and wisdom and affection--of how each generation sets sail anew for its own America, because landing and arriving aren't quite the same.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Set in Brooklyn and uptown Manhattan in the 1950s, Flannery O'Connor Award-winner Glickfield's (Useful Gifts, 1989) first novel employs a seductive narrative voice. The atmospheric story focuses on Chenia Arnow, a Russian-Jewish immigrant wife and mother whose emotional turmoil shapes the life of her unwanted but not unloved youngest daughter. Looking back from the vantage point of adulthood, Devorah reconstructs her mother's life, beginning with the 45-year-old Chenia's efforts to abort her third child or, failing that, commit suicide. Bright but unschooled, Chenia agrees with her philandering husband, Ruben, on only one thing: they cannot afford another baby. Chenia gives birth to Devorah despite fears and superstitions, raising her alongside Devorah's older siblings in Brighton Beach until Ruben moves them closer to his girlfriend in Manhattan. Although Ruben regularly lies, it is Chenia who collapses with guilt when four-year-old Devorah is accidentally injured during Chenia's quarrel with her shoe salesman lover. In anguish, Chenia briefly disappears, leaving precocious, outspoken Devorah in the care of New Jersey relatives. Spiritual insights and financial gifts from unexpected sources fortify the family as it rebuilds itself, and the tale heads toward a teary-eyed conclusion where two generations forgive each other's weaknesses and their own. Glickfield's prose is precise, poignant and painfully personal, and her tale touches many emotional hot buttonsDunfulfilled talent, repressed desire, self-defeating despairDwhile almost perfectly recreating the physical and psychological geography of the times. Obvious plot devices (a financial windfall, a new suitor, an old lover) move the narrative along, but it is feisty Chenia and perpetually curious Devorah who invest the novel with glorious life. (Feb. 21) Forecast: Having captured a time and place with perfection, Glickfeld's novel may resonate with many readers. Word of mouth will be a factor in its success. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Set in Brooklyn and later Manhattan, Glickfeld's first novel chronicles the life of Russian Jewish migr Chenia Arnow. The book is about domestic affairs (Chenia's first husband, Ruben, is a flashy three-timer; her second is a good, good man but lacks spark) and affairs (partly Ruben's but primarily Chenia's with a charming but dishonest shoe store manager who drives her more than once toward suicide). The book is warm, funny, human, and honest, and it's interesting to watch Chenia's character evolve from wisecracking, superstitious new migr to something deeper; throughout, one is reminded of a Carol Shields book. There is a distracting narrative device, though, whereby all sorts of things (e.g., love scenes between Ruben and his mistresses) are narrated by Chenia's precocious youngest daughter, even though she could have no knowledge of them. Theoretically, this should render the narrative unreliable, but fortunately most readers care little for narrative theory, and the book's charms will win them. Recommended.--Robert E. Brown, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"Achieves such a fine balance of humor, pathos, and atmosphere that one is tempted to call it a masterpiece of its kind." —Elle

“The story-telling is engaging, full of the quotidian joys and sorrows of a winning and indomitable woman.” — The Washington Post Book World

“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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307428035
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/18/2007
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 641,509
  • File size: 373 KB

Meet the Author

Born in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, Carole Glickfeld grew up in the Inwood section of Manhattan, not far from the Cloisters, the museum of medieval treasures that expands the horizons of Chenia Arnow, the main character in Swimming Toward the Ocean. In sixth grade at PS 152, Carole began her literary career, writing a short story about a boy and his dog, two subjects that, at age ten, she knew nothing about but chose to imagine. Already she had been inspired by Jo March in Little Women.

In high school, she took a creative writing class--not a happy experience. Her teacher shamed her for writing about a teenage boy and girl who differed over how sexually intimate they wished to be. From then on, Carole was mostly a closet writer. Between high school and college, she worked as a salad girl in the Catskill Mountains. That summer, she wrote a story about a woman and her still-born child, which, uncharacteristically, she read to her three roommates. They cried. This was heady reinforcement for a fifteen-year-old writer-to-be.

At the City College of New York, Carole studied Latin and French, minoring in English literature. She enrolled in the Ph.D. program in English literature at Hunter College. Realizing she was too shy ever to teach, she dropped out. Before becoming a full-time writer, she worked in politics and government and lost her shyness. For the past ten years, she has taught creative writing classes at the University of Washington, mostly to adults.

Her first book, Useful Gifts, which won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, is about a family with deaf parents and hearing children. While the stories are not autobiographical, Carole drew on her own background as a CODA (child of deaf adults). American Sign Language was practically her first language. Although her two books are set in New York City, she has written fiction that is set in other places (e.g., Michigan, because she was writer-in-residence at Interlochen Arts Academy; Seattle, where she currently resides). She has written a one-act play, "The Challenge," that has been performed by hundreds of senior citizen groups in the U.S. and Canada.

The recipient of a Literary Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, she was a Fellow at Bread Loaf, MacDowell Colony and Virginia Arts Center. Since residing in the Northwest, she has won some local grants and the Washington State Governor's Arts Award.

Carole is a night writer, beginning around midnight and working till around 4 a.m. She rises around noon and goes to her local Starbucks in Seattle (actually the second store established) to edit what she wrote the night before. One day, sipping coffee, she had an image of a woman going up to the roof in an apartment building. Suddenly she knew why the woman was going up to the roof. Though she writes on a computer, on this day, she wrote long-hand, surprised to see a story tumble out that begins with a fetus in her mother's womb. This became the opening of Swimming Toward the Ocean.

Writing is an act of discovery, Carole says. She writes out of the subconscious, without consciously controlling her characters or their actions. One of the joys of writing for her is finding out WHAT HAPPENS. Nevertheless, she is a relentless reviser. Once the draft is written, she pores over every word, paring and polishing. Mostly I re-write," she says.

Kirkus Reviews calls Swimming Toward the Ocean, published in hardcover by Knopf in 2001, "luminous with clear-sighted compassion for its imperfect characters, alive to life's bitter disappointments and transcendent possibilities; very exciting fiction indeed."

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Read an Excerpt

Chenia Arnow is a Russian-Jewish immigrant in 1950s New York, a sharp-witted, Betty Grable look-alike whose accent and Old-World superstitions mask untapped passions and intellectual curiosity. Her husband Ruben is a handsome philanderer who has a knack for creating phony lawsuits. Their precocious daughter Devorah, tells–and often imagines–the richly involving story of their lives.
No one expects the devoted Chenia to fall under the spell of a lover of her own, but the Arnows' lives unfold in many surprises. In tart and seductive storytelling, Swimming Toward the Ocean follows husbands and wives and children through often shifting and misguided connections, illuminating the timeless patterns of immigrant life, and the search for love and a place in a new world.
Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

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?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Wonderful, strange book

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2001

    Unforgettable and Utterly Compelling

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2001

    Incredible Reading

    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.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    powerful look at a New York City Jewish family in the 1950s

    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 Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2001

    A Compelling Story

    '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!

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