The future is often foretold in stories of the past. As families flee the Debaltseve in Eastern Ukraine in 2015, Ken Goodman’s The Smart One: A Grandfather’s Tale takes us back to families fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe at the turn of the Twentieth Century. It is a compelling story of Jewish migration to America, which begins in Smorgon, now in Belarus, a former Soviet Republic, but at the time Smorgon was in Vilnius, a district of Lithuania, and a part of the Russian Empire. The book is beautifully illustrated throughout with fine line drawings by Ray Martens.
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The Smart One: A Grandfather’s Tale begins in 1901 and ends in 1906 and is told to us by little Duvid Mendel Gutman, who was Ken Goodman’s father. The story is filled with conflict over the political changes taking place, as well as the love and generosity of the people Duvid encounters, including the gypsies and Jews who live in the woods with their dancing bears to protect them. With Duvid to guide us we participate with his family in Sukkos, Shabbos, Chanukah, Purim, Passover and the High Holidays. By his side we witness the strike for a 12 hour day on May Day 1904 and the Revolution in Smorgon in 1905, and we feel with him and his family the heart wrenching distress at what happened to members of his family who participated in the workers’ resistance movement to the social injustice they were forced to endure.
“To understand who we are as Americans,” Ken Goodman writes, “we need to understand who we were and where we have been.”
The Smart One: A Grandfather’s Tale does just that. It is a book to be read aloud at Chanukah and Passover, and at Yom Kippur, but also at other times by families of different religious and cultural traditions, who share with Duvid Mendel Gutman and his family an indomitable human spirit and hope for the future