Book Review: “a Smile in One Eye…”

a Smile in One Eye, a Tear in the Other -by Ralph Webster

  • DougInNC book review

This work contains life. Author Ralph Webster puts the reader in the conversation of his father sharing day to day existence in Germany during the rise of Hitler. It is about making-do and the makings of history, about minutiae as well as major moments.

  • (a day in the life) “Certain events are remembered for a lifetime. … Father’s fiftieth birthday in 1931 was one of those times.”
  • (a historical turning point) “… the events of 1933 sowed the seeds that fundamentally changed our future.”

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 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.

  • (1939) “Coping was the best they could do.” … “Sometimes we are just simply what we have to be.”
  • (1946) “…throughout the world, people learned to cope as best they could. That is what we all had to do.”

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 separated in style and character. 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.

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