Book Review: “Not Our Kind”

"Not Our Kind" book cover showing a woman with her back to us.

“Not Our Kind”

As a Jewish student at Vassar College, Kitty Zeldis was considered “not our kind” by the WASP elite. She joked to a friend that she should have been named “Katherine Anne Worthington” to fit in with the gentile environment, rather than the Jewish name her parents had given her. This experience was the inspiration for her recent novel, “Not Our Kind.”

In this novel, Zeldis introduces us to Eleanor Moskowitz, a resident of the tenements of Manhattan. World War II had just ended. With renewed optimism about the future, Eleanor summoned the courage to step out of her shtetl like comfort zone and venture into the difficult and intimidating world of “the other,” the WASP.

Eleanor was the daughter of a hat maker, whose modest Second Avenue shop was not in the career path of that recent Vassar graduate. While searching for employment, an agency counsellor cautioned her that her last name, “Moskowitz,” would illicit only rejections. “Morse” or “Moss” would be more acceptable.

The title, “Not Our Kind,” raises the specter of the deeply ingrained cultural anti-Semitism of 1947, exemplified by the lengths to which Eleanor went to gain employment amongst “their kind.” Consequently, in the interest of expediency, she put pride and principles aside and hid her heritage by replacing “Moskowitz” with a more fitting name: “Moss.”

Eleanor’s story is not moored to the pilings of prejudice alone; it also navigates the perilous shoals of interpersonal relationships. A traffic accident brought the well-heeled Park Avenue resident Patricia Bellamy, her petulant teenage daughter Margaux, and Eleanor together. Margaux needed a tutor and Patricia needed someone to help her daughter cope with the ravages of polio. Eleanor and Margaux hit it off immediately, but for some, too well.

No novel would be complete without a love interest and an adversary. “Not Our Kind” does not disappoint. Tom, Margaux’s charismatic, bohemian uncle, serves as the potential for romance. Patricia’s boorish husband, Wynn Bellamy, is the heavy.

Drenched in rich and colorful prose, Zeldis portrays interpersonal relationships in a time and place framed in prejudice. “Not Our Kind” speaks to everyone, no matter what “kind” you are.

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