This book follows the lives of three generations of women as they learn about life, each other and those around them. Sophie is from the old country. She’s bossy and wants to run everyone’s lives. With her husband, the family runs a hotel in the Catskill Mountains. Her daughter, Cel, swears that she will not be like her mother. She won’t marry for financial security but for love. She won’t treat her children like they were born to be workers but with love. At 18, she marries Henry, the manager of the hotel. Living with Sophie, can the young couple make their own lives?
Cel and Henry have a daughter, against Sophie’s wishes. For them, life is sweet until Henry gets sick. Then, all the plans and hopes and dreams are crushed. Cel is forced by Sophie to make decisions that she never wanted to make. She has a daughter to raise and no money. Where can she go from here? The depression of the 30s is upon them and there aren’t many choices.
The years leading up to WWII shock and rock Cel’s life. Her husband becomes more religious and the Temple starts gathering things for the refugees coming to NY. Being Jewish during this time begins to define the family. Things are changing. Women are heading to the workforce and living their own lives. Being married isn’t the only option open to a good Jewish girl. But when one of the children married a non-Jew, can the family accept her?
This book does a wonderful job following a family’s journey through a rapidly changing society. In three generations women went from parents pretty much arranging their daughter’s lives to girls attending college and have a career. Many new concepts were mentioned like birth control which was very controversial to TV. Other issues that were important ranged from keeping kosher to illegal abortions. Yet, at no point did Ms Livingston push one viewpoint or another. She put out things in a no nonsense way and continued on with her story.
Her characters have great depth. They had to as we were watching their lives unfold. Cel is the most noticeable character. You follow her life from the time she was 18 until she dies. She also shows the most change. The other women in the book also get much more coverage than any of the men. Cel has two brothers but once she moves from the hotel, you don’t hear about them any longer.
I have a minor irritation with the time sequences for Cel. When she meets Morris, Joseph is 5 years old and Estelle is around 3 or 4 yet they both graduate from high school in the same year. Also, Cel is 18 when she marries and doesn’t have Estelle right away. When Estelle graduates from high school she should have been around 18. The youngest Cel could have been would be 36, though she probably she have been 37, not 35. This is just a pet peeve of mine and not a major issue.
I really enjoyed watching how women’s lives changed. At the beginning, a woman’s job was to get married and raise children. Education was not important. Within 3 generations, things had changed. Cel’s youngest daughter recognized that having an education would give her the financial security that her mother always craved but needed a man to provide. On a side note, this letting the man support you and education isn’t needed for women was alive and well into the 70s. I had friends who had to fight with their parents to graduate from high school and I was told by my mother-in-law that I should drop out of college once I was married.
Though this story is about a Jewish family in NY, it could be any family’s story. I’m not Jewish nor have I ever lived in NY but I could identify with many of the struggles this family was going through. It was like I was reading part of my family’s history. (Another side note, my grandfather did emigrate from Russia about the same time as Sophie.)
This is a truly exceptional debut novel. I started it Friday afternoon and didn’t want to put it down until it was finished. I was drawn into these lives and soon they became like my family. Each character is unique. The backdrop of what was happening in the world did not leave this family untouched. Instead, you are given some wonderful social history without being bored. I can’t say enough good things about this story. Though with this as a debut novel, Ms Livingston has an awfully high bar for her next!
THE MONEY GOD is the story of Celia’s life. Money was a driving force in her life. With it she had everything; without it she was vulnerable and alone. Cel allows the pursuit of money to take over her life and control every action. She sacrifices her family and her morals for the almighty dollar.
THE MONEY GOD traces the lives of three generation of Jewish women from the rural Catskill Mountains during the 1930’s to the challenges of city life in New York in the 1960’s. Along the way, these women face financial struggles, family rifts and the consequences of global conflict. It is a novel of love, love lost, lust and greed.