Friday, February 16, 2024

Review of The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (11/16/2024)

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“But Chona’s years of stirring butter, sorting vegetables, and reading in the back room of the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store had given her time to consider.  She read everything as a child: comics, detective books, dime novels; and by the time she became a young wife, she’d evolved into reading about socialism and unions.  She subscribed to Jewish newspapers, publications in Hebrew, and books on Jewish life, some from Europe.  The readings gave her wild ideas about art, music, and worldly matters.  She knew more Hebrew than any Jewish woman in town, many of whom had little more than a rudimentary knowledge of the language.  She could recite the Talmud better than most of the men in shul.  Instead of sitting with the women in the balcony, she insisted on davening downstairs with the men, claiming her bad foot prevented her from climbing stairs.” – James McBride, Chapter 3: Twelve, Page 27

“The colored maids, housekeepers, saloon cleaners, factory workers, and bellhops of Chicken Hill who gathered near the vegetable bin each Saturday morning to hear Paper’s news, however, loved her chatter.  Paper knew more news that the local papers, which she actually never read.  In fact, there was a rumor about that Paper couldn’t read at all – she’d been seen at the Second Baptist church holding the hymnal book upside down more than once.  That didn’t matter.  Her neat wooden frame house on Franklin Street was perched at one of the main roads leading up to Chicken Hill, given her a view of the town in front and the Hill in the back.” – James McBride, Chapter 8: Paper, Page 76

“Miss Chona was not a woman who lost her cool easily.  Despite the odd tremors and occasional frightening seizures brought on by her disability, she rambled around the store freely, doing all manner of tasks.  If there was a carton to be lifted, she would attempt to lift it herself.  If there were groceries to be stacked or vegetables to sort, she went at those things.  She did not like to be helped, and he’d learned to not help her unless asked.  The only time she let him do work that kept him free and rambling, because he hated sitting still, was if she was reading.” – James McBride, Chapter 11: Gone, Page 116


Is This An Overview?

In the 1970s, a skeleton is found in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.  The skeleton has a pendant that leads to The Heaven And Earth Grocery Store.  The tale takes the form of a backstory of how the skeleton came to be there, a mystery that is set in the 1920s-1930s.  During the time, The Heaven And Earth Grocery Store, along with theaters are owned by Moshe and Chona.  Moshe manages the theater, while the disabled Chona manages the store. 

The Heaven And Earth Grocery Store acts like a sanctuary for many.  A central community gathering place that is recognized for how they help the community.  In an era of various forms of persecution, the store and theaters transformed the community into an inclusive region.  A region where diverse people who struggle are able to find people who can help them.  Diverse people from different ethnicities, cultures, religions, and disabilities. 

As a sanctuary, Moshe and Chona are willing to hide a nephew of a friend and colleague.  The nephew is a 12-year-old boy called Dodo, who needs to avoid a government agent who is set to take Dodo to a special school for people like Dodo.  Dodo became disabled after a kitchen accident.  Dodo became deaf, but is able to read lips and be athletic.  The request to hide Dodo was due to the poor conditions of the intended school.  Dodo is hidden at The Heaven And Earth Grocery Store.  Although Moshe and Chona did not have a child, Dodo has become part of the family.  Can they keep Dodo hidden?  How is this event tied to the skeleton found many years later?



The book covers various socially tense situations, using the language of the era.  Ideas and language that are no longer appropriate.  The situations are meant to represent the values of people during the time.  What they thought and how they reflect on contemporary values. 

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•Whose body was found in the introduction?  What happened to them?  
•What happened to Moshe flyers for an concert with Katz? 
•Who is Moshe? 
•Who is Chona? 
•How did Moshe and Chona meet? 
•Why keep and stay at the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store? 
•How did Moshe change the community?  How did the community respond to the change? 
•How did Chona behave and effect other people?  
•How did Chona’s disability effect Chona?
•How did Chona effect the community? 
•What is the significance of 12? 
•Who is Nate Timblin? 
•What is Nate’s history? 
•Who is Addie? 
•Who is Dodo? 
•How did Dodo become deaf? 
•Who is Malachi? 
•How is Malachi’s bread? 
•What did Moshe do with Malachi’s bread? 
•What does Malachi think of America? 
•Who is the greatest dancer? 
•Who received the pendant that had the inscription “Home of the Greatest Dancer in the World”?
•Why does the government want Dodo?  How does Nate handle the situation?
•Who is spreading the location of Dodo?
•How does Chona treat Dodo? 
•How was Dodo found? 
•Who is Bernice? 
•What is Chona’s history with Bernice?
•Who is Patty Millison, and why is Patty known as Newspaper, as Paper?  
•Who is Doc?  
•What is Doc’s history with Chona?
•What group is Doc part of?
•What does Doc think is happening to America? 
•Who is Fatty? 
•Who is Reverend Spriggs? 
•Who is Big Soap? 
•Who is Pia? 
•Who is Miggy Fludd? 
•Who is Son of Man? 
•Who is Plitzka?
•What is Plitzka’s role with water? 
•What does Doc think of Plitzka? 
•How was the shul built? 
•How does the shul get water? 
•What is the purpose of marbles? 
•Who are the Skrup brothers? 
•Who is Monkey Pants?
•How did Dodo and Monkey Pants communicate? 
•What is the purpose of Pennhurst State Hospital? 
•What claims did Doc make about Dodo after the event at the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store?
•What is the plan to get Dodo out of Pennhurst?

Book Details
Publisher:               Riverhead Books [Penguin Random House]
Edition ISBN:         9780593422960
Pages to read:          309
Publication:             2003
1st Edition:              2003
Format:                    eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          4
Overall          4