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A Smile in One Eye: A Tear in the Other Paperback – Import, 28 Jun 2016
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About the Author
Ralph Webster is the son of immigrant parents. Their history makes him acutely aware of the horrors many refugees must endure to survive.
Webster is retired. He lives with his wife, Ginger, on North Carolina's Outer Banks.
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At first, these efforts took the form of outrageously biased laws designed to drive Jews out of the country of their own volition. Being a Jew was defined by heredity, not religious beliefs. Most of Webster's family members were practicing Lutherans, but were identified by the Nazis as part of the "Jewish race," and were therefore subjected to humiliating and demeaning restrictions, such as having to register with the government as Jews, not being able to own businesses or keep the associated profits, not being able to drive a car, obeying curfews, and not being allowed to marry a person who was not a Jew. Organized violence against Jews began to escalate, with the burning and looting of businesses, homes, and farms.
In light of such ominous foreshadowing of what was to come, a person might wonder why all Jews didn't get out of Germany as quickly as they could. Therein lies the problem. Countries such as England and the United States had immigration quotas and requirements, such as the need for a sponsor in the receiving country. Relocating was costly, and Jews had been stripped of most of their assets and access to money. It became common practice for Jewish families to use their scarce resources to send their children abroad first, perhaps to a boarding school or to live with a relative. The more fortunate members of the Webster family landed in Scotland, England, Canada, the United States, Australia, China, and Palestine. Those unable to escape were murdered in concentration camps.
Ralph Webster, who was born in America and lives in North Carolina, has painstakingly pieced together many heretofore unknown details of the lives of his grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in order to highlight the plight of political refugees with no place to go. He draws a parallel with 21st Century people driven out of or seeking to flee from war-torn countries. Perhaps it is true that people who don't study history are doomed to repeat it. Webster's book should make readers think twice.
• "Certain events are remembered for a lifetime. ... Father's fiftieth birthday in 1931 was one of those times." (a day in the life)
• "... the events of 1933 sowed the seeds that fundamentally changed our future." (a historical turning point)
Hear the history and learn from it. By the 1930s one's world was not contained by borders, perhaps something World War I delivered in an unkind way. Germany was not just connected to Europe, but now to America, Palestine, and even China. Fleeing Germany did not mean simply crossing one border, making one excursion, or finishing one move.
In whole or in part, families like the Wobsers of this tale went west, south, and east by whatever means necessary and whatever plans could be contrived to sustain life and pursue their future. Resettling did not mean things were settled. Civilization did not become nomadic again, but mankind was compelled to become migratory in the first half of the 20th century in unimagined numbers; so they did.
• "Coping was the best they could do." ... "Sometimes we are just simply what we have to be." (1939)
• "...throughout the world, people learned to cope as best they could. That is what we all had to do." (1946)
The novel's subject confesses, "I know I am repeating myself." That is part of the charm that makes this book personal. This narrative in your hands feels more spoken than read. When people tell stories, they include clichés and are not without repetition.
One finds in these pages thoughts that could come from within if the ability to express the essence of the moment was equivalent to that of this writer.
• "For the first time, I discovered the competing wonders of independence and daring, a reminder of my first steps."
• "Being ten was incredible. We possessed most abilities and knew nothing of the consequences."
The author works to wrap ribbons around a package that is already wonderful. The last chapter would be deemed necessary by most, but to some readers it will seem somewhat separate from the style and character of the rest. The epilogue had important elements for understanding the background of the book and I suggest consuming those last few pages before closing the covers.
"Life is a balance. Smiles in one eye and tears in the other." Reading Ralph Webster's warm, personal tale reminds us to accept both and make the most of the life we are given.