I really enjoyed this book, especially the last chapter, in which Gross tells about his reading. Like Gross, I love books about books. Like Gross, I read a lot of comic books in my youth (mainly Wonder Woman) and, later, mysteries (all of Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie and many more). Like Gross, I thought there would always be time later to read the classics, and also like him, I tend to pick up whatever catches my eye at the library. Now I'm 63, and although I've read much of the great stuff, there's still much to be read. My tastes don't run to T. S. Eliot and Gross's moderns but backward to the nineteenth-century English novelists and beyond.
Gross has a pleasant, low-key style and, it seemed to me, a realistic take on childhood and its memories.
In at least one sense, the title is misleading: What Gross has accomplished in this volume is to weave an enormous, vividly colorful, and immensely intricate tapestry with almost infinite "threads" or themes. They include "the story of [his] two separate entwined legacies of being English and being Jewish" during 1935-52 as well as the Battle of Britain when he and his mother were relocated from London to Sussex to avoid the Blitz, the gradual awareness of the Holocaust, and eventually the establishment of the State of Israel.
For me, one of Gross's most powerful qualities is his modesty (almost self-deprecation) as his memoir proceeds through such volatile times. For example, on the matter of anti-Semitism, he observes that "to have had a religious upbringing at least assures that in your own mind you are a Jew first, and the object of other people's dislike second." Young Gross seems to have been spared the ordeal of what other Jews his age experienced during the Third Reich. With regard to his own faith, "for many Jews, whatever the larger historical balance sheet, anti-Semitism is the heart of the matter, the only significant reason why they still feel Jewish." I was also deeply moved by his portrayal of his father, Avraham ben Oser, who became a doctor. The adult Gross very closely resembles that wise and generous man. It is not so much that father and son tolerate anti-Semitism; rather, that they absorb it and thereby deprive it of any legitimacy.
Frequently as I read this book, I wondered what their conversations would have discussed had young Andras Grof emigrated to London rather than to New York and become friends with young Gross. (Grof changed his name to Grove and later served as CEO of Intel Corporation. I highly recommend his own memoir, Swimming Across.) The balance of Gross's engaging and eloquent autobiography reveals his thoughts and feelings about the Cold War years during which Stalin executed so many Jewish artists and writers. He also comments insightfully on T.S. Eliot ("who may be a great poet but he isn't greater than the Jewish people") and W.H. Auden whose social values are more compatible with Gross's own. There is great sensitivity in this book but almost no sentimentalism. Were a higher rating available, I would gratefully give it to this unique and compelling personal narrative.