Partly autobiographical, straight-forward and simply told, “Step-Children of the World” (Bloch Publishing Co. ), by J. Manuel Mayer, is a short novel, moderately paced, that holds the interest throughout. This, despite its apparent guilelessness and lack of worldliness. Its specific virtue is its engagingly authentic portrayal of old world scenes; Rumania, in this case. Sincerity is the keynote. The only jarring note is the comparatively happy conclusion which, even if it corresponds to the author’s personal experience, does not strike the convincing note.
The theme is not unique. It treats of the career of a Jew from childhood, through the allegedly “best years” of his life and into middle age. Teddy’s rather satisfactory childhood in the small town of Namor, where Jew and Gentile live in rustic and rather touching neighborliness, is interrupted by an anti-Semitic outbreak, somewhat artificially forced into the life of that community. But, then, did any pogrom anywhere appear natural to the victims? And so Teddy’s Odyssey #egins, and eventually he lands on these shores, but not before European places and characters are effectively flashed before the reader.
Equally persuasive is the portion detailing with the American adventures of our hero. In this section the narrative is enhanced by touches of humor. Many a silent chuckle is in store for those who will read the pages telling of Theodore’s medical school days. A tone of despair is introduced in connection with some post-war episodes, but it is promptly subdued.
“Easter Sun” (Coward-McCann) does not trespass beyond the borders of Rumania. Peter Neagoe’s is a lusty picture of the village and of those who work the soil. To him peasantry is not an aggregation of rubber stamp units, but rather a heterogeneous set of individuals, each unmistakably individualistic. His Ileana is a young and gifted dynamic female whose unconventional carnal ventures aggravate her spiritual separation from her environment. Her fiery town lover, her maddened, one-eyed father, the village hunchback teacher, who, toward the end, takes her away in a strange fashion, and most of the other characters are real. So is the tapestry of Rumanian folklore that provides much of the background. Those brought up on the ultra-modern novel especially will welcome Mr. Neagoe’s manner in handling encounters between the sexes.