Thursday, November 5, 2015

Temple by Robert Greenfield

Temple by Robert Greenfield, which won the National Jewish Book Award for best novel in 1983 is a book I bought years ago and thanks to my 50 book reading challenge have finally gotten around to reading.

When Temple begins the main character Paulie Bindel is living in Cambridge Massachusetts with his girlfriend, Lesley.  He has dropped out of graduate school and works nights in a bookstore for minimum wage,  He hates his job and no wonder since he is seriously underemployed.  The one thing Paulie does love is music.  Going to a popular nightclub in Cambridge the Charity Ward for Paulie is akin to a religious experience.  But when he discovers his beautiful girlfriend Lesley has been cheating on him (something he was sure was going to happen eventually) there doesn't seem to be a reason to stay in Cambridge and so Paulie heads back home to his old neighborhood in Brooklyn where he grew up.

Can you go home again and find answers regarding how you should live your life?   That's one of the questions Temple asks, home not being just a geographical location but returning to your family, your neighborhood, your faith.  Since Paulie is still young he's 's lucky.  His parents,  Morty and Esther Bindel, are alive and in good health.  Paulie though is somewhat dismissive of his parents.  He has come back primarily to reconnect with his grandfather who he loves and who he is hoping will provide him with answers.

The novel is about Paulie's journey and he narrates certain chapters.  We also learn about other characters in the novel whose life revolves around Temple Ahavath Mizrath and the old Brooklyn neighborhood.  Paulie's grandfather a deeply religious man and Holocaust survivor who bravely got his wife and kids to America before trying to leave himself.  Paulie's father Morty who served in WW 11 and has worked hard to support his family and pay for Paulie's education.  Paulie's mother Esther who sat up nights with him when he was a kid treating his asmtha.  Rabbi Simeon Hakveldt spiritual leader of the temple who worries about how his congregation feels about him.  The guys at the post office where Morty gets his son a job who spend their time drinking and fighting.  The ladies at Toni's Beauty Salon where Esther and her friends go to get their hair done and catch up.

And actually its the supporting characters in Temple that most interested me.  Robert Greenfield does a masterful job telling us about their lives, their fears, their dreams and a few warrant a novel of their own. And as I learned about them I found my attitude changing towards Paulie.  He is bright or as his father says "too bright, that's always been his problem". And though Paulie is funny and self deprecating he is also very judgemental about himself and others.  Maybe if he could learn to cut himself some slack he could go easier on others or visa versa.

Temple published in 1982 describes a different world than today.  But the lessons in this book about finding your place are timeless.  Robert Greenfield is a gifted writer who has written other books as well. Temple is out of print but you can order a used copy at Amazon and its worth cbecking out.