One of the questions they were sometimes asked was where and how they had met, for Marc Reiser was a Jew, originally from a small town in northern Ontario, and from 1932 until he went overseas in September, 1942, a junior partner in the law firm of Maresch and Aaronson in Montreal, and Erika Drake was a Gentile, one of the Westmount Drakes. Montreal society is divided roughly into three categories labeled “French,” “English,” and “Jewish,” and there is not much coming and going between them, particularly between the Jews and either of the other two groups; for although, as a last resort, French and English can be united under the heading “Gentile,” such an alliance merely serves to isolate the Jews more than ever.
The introductory paragraph of Earth and High Heaven
There is a tension in this novel that brings the reader almost to the breaking point. The whole will-they-or-won’t-they (stay together) scenario between Erika Drake (the Gentile) and Marc Reiser (the Jew) was quite intense at times. I was pretty much on the edge of my seat, reading as fast as I could to find out. So yes, the novel is both hard to read because of how it points out the very real racism that divided people in the 1940s (and before and after of course) and great to read because of its sweltering romance. (I don’t want to compare it to a Harlequin romance but I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first person to do so if I were to compare it to a Harlequin romance although as far as I recall there was nary a mention of heaving Gentile bosoms.)
What I found most illuminating was that I really liked Marc Reiser’s character until his older brother rips into him near the end of the book and pointed out all his flaws. I didn’t stop liking him at that point, I just didn’t realize what an idiot he was being and how he was letting society manipulate him. (Or maybe I’m the idiot?) I’m trying not to say too much here because really, it’s a great book and I highly recommend it.
This may have won the 1944 Governor General’s award for fiction and been the ninth bestselling book in the United States in 1945 but I had never heard of it. If you are looking for very pretty copies of this book and her other book Swiss Sonata were re-released in 2008 by Cormorant Books and they are, indeed, very pretty. (And no, they didn’t pay me to say any of that.)
Death Toll: No one significant. I know, I was a little disappointed too. I may have to re-think my tagline if this keeps up.