The Puzzle King
Simon Phelps emigrated to the United States as a nine-year-old boy, making the journey from Latvia to New York City on his own. During the journey, Simon discovers his unique talent for making people happy through his artwork—a talent that helps him make his name during the early years of advertising in America. As a young man, Simon meets the vivacious Flora Grossman, a fellow European Jew whose family sent her to America with her sister, Seema, in hopes of a better life. Simon and Flora are an unexpected couple—Flora is as lighthearted as Simon is serious—but they complement one another perfectly. As an adult, Simon has lost track of his family, and he yearns for news of home. Flora is still in contact with her mother and sister in Germany, and as Hitler rises to power in her home country, she recognizes the imminent threat to her family and longs to help them escape.
Carter based her novel on family legends—her ancestors were saved from the Nazis by Simon and Flora Phelps. The struggles of Jewish Americans during the pre-war years are fully explored. Simon faces bigotry on the job, Seema’s desire to assimilate estranges her from her family, and Flora desperately wants to save the people she loves from the rising tide of anti-Semitism that is sweeping her hometown of Kaiserslautern. Simon and Flora’s unwavering love for one another is sweet but never mawkish, and Carter does an exceptional job capturing the extraordinary heroics of two ordinary people.