Chicken Dreaming Corn
The title comes from an expression the author’s “Romanian Jewish grandmother used to refer to the yearnings of ordinary folks for something special or extraordinary.” The protagonist, Morris Kleinman, dreams of a special life for his wife and four children. Morris’s father’s distillery in a Romanian town was seized by soldiers, who were enforcing a law barring Jews from this type of business. While still young, Morris makes his way to America, where he works at whatever jobs he can find. He and his wife make their way to Mobile, Alabama, where he becomes the owner of a clothing shop. He and his family are an integral part of the community, but still face anti-Semitism in a number of guises.
Morris is a very good man, and this tale is warm-hearted and nostalgic, in the best of ways. The author has made vivid a slice of American life that is not often thought of. The story follows Morris’s family from 1916 to 1945. The initial scene of Morris and his neighbors in the business district preparing for a parade by veterans of the War Between the States is highly evocative. Throughout the book, readers get a sense of the era, most strongly through the characters’ relationships. Racism, illness, greed, despair, and mere survival join anti-Semitism as the reality to be set against chicken dreaming corn, but Morris always remains hopeful and a dreamer of big dreams. I highly recommend this understated but compelling novel.