Not Our Kind
By: Kitty Zeldis
Publication Date: 9/4/2018
My Rating: 5 Stars With echoes of Rules of Civility and The Boston Girl, a compelling and thought-provoking novel set in postwar New York City, about two women—one Jewish, one a WASP—and the wholly unexpected consequences of their meeting. Tne rainy morning in June, two years after the end of World War II, a minor traffic accident brings together Eleanor Moskowitz and Patricia Bellamy. Their encounter seems fated: Eleanor, a teacher and recent Vassar graduate, needs a job. Patricia’s difficult thirteen-year-old daughter Margaux, recovering from polio, needs a private tutor. Though she feels out of place in the Bellamys’ rarefied and elegant Park Avenue milieu, Eleanor forms an instant bond with Margaux. Soon the idealistic young woman is filling the bright young girl’s mind with Shakespeare and Latin. Though her mother, a hat maker with a little shop on Second Avenue, disapproves, Eleanor takes pride in her work, even if she must use the name "Moss" to enter the Bellamys’ restricted doorman building each morning, and feels that Patricia’s husband, Wynn, may have a problem with her being Jewish.
Invited to keep Margaux company at the Bellamys’ country home in a small town in Connecticut, Eleanor meets Patricia’s unreliable, bohemian brother, Tom, recently returned from Europe. The spark between Eleanor and Tom is instant and intense. Flushed with new romance and increasingly attached to her young pupil, Eleanor begins to feel more comfortable with Patricia and much of the world she inhabits. As the summer wears on, the two women’s friendship grows—until one hot summer evening, a line is crossed, and both Eleanor and Patricia will have to make important decisions—choices that will reverberate through their lives.
Gripping and vividly told, Not Our Kind illuminates the lives of two women on the cusp of change—and asks how much our pasts can and should define our futures.
“A young Jewish teacher and a WASPy married woman find an unexpected connection in post-World War II New York. . . . Zeldis paints a vivid picture of two separate New Yorks in the 1940s—Eleanor’s shabby clothes and budget meals versus Patricia’s fancy dresses and staff-prepared dinners. Their twin journeys toward independence—Eleanor’s from her mother and Patricia’s from her husband—show that no matter how much money a woman had, she was still constrained by the misogyny and stifling gender roles of the time. A compelling tale of friendship, class, prejudice, and love.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Zeldis uses the rich details of post-war New York—the music, the clothes, the cocktails—to tell the story of two women looking for fulfillment.” (Booklist)
“Let the glorious period details wash all over you—the clothes, the glamour, the excitement of New York, circa 1947. But the most remarkable achievement in NOT OUR KIND is the complex relationship between women from two different worlds that Kitty Zeldis expertly explores. The questions and prejudices that each woman has to confront are issues we are still exploring today, which makes this novel timely as well as entertaining.” (Melanie Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue and The Girls in the Picture)
“Kitty Zeldis has a gift for making even the smallest details of the past shine with vivid color. The story she tells in NOT OUR KIND—of two women in post-World War II New York trying to forge lives of integrity and purpose—resonates with the struggles of women today. Compelling, frank, and all too real, NOT OUR KIND kept me reading long into the night.” (Lauren Belfer, National Jewish Book Award-winning author of And After the Fire)
“NOT OUR KIND transports the reader back to 1947, to the heart of New York’s WASP-y Upper East Side. Zeldis has written a powerful and page-turning account of what happens when Eleanor--smart, beautiful, and Jewish--is employed as a tutor by the troubled Bellamy family, and finds herself out of place in their world. Can the fox and the hound ever truly be friends? This engaging novel succeeds in putting a fresh, feminine spin on that question.” (Suzanne Rindell, author of THE OTHER TYPIST and EAGLE & CRANE)
“Kitty Zeldis is one of those rare writers who doesn’t just weave a story, she creates a world. In this case, 1947 New York -- vivid, dazzling, challenging -- where a young Jewish woman dares to cross the line into the land of WASP privilege, with unexpected results. With deeply human characters and resonant themes, NOT OUR KIND kept me reading well into the night.” (Jennie Fields, author of Lily Beach, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, and The Age of Desire)
“Rich, evocative, and atmospheric, NOT OUR KIND by Kitty Zeldis is the story of two very different women whose chance meeting changes both their lives in the late 1940s New York. Zeldis weaves a beautifully written story not only about class and women’s roles, but also about love, friendship, motherhood, and coming of age. I was absolutely captivated by this stunning historical novel.” (Jillian Cantor, author of Margot and The Lost Letter)
“Kitty Zeldis shakes open a map of postwar New York City and draws the reader right down onto its streets and into the lives of the women who walk them. Her characters button up their coats and march their way through that decade’s particular disasters—the polio epidemic, religious prejudice, class divisions, generalized misogyny—determined to locate power and happiness for themselves and the ones they love. Not Our Kind is a beautiful and compelling read.” (Adrienne Sharp, author of The Magnificent Esme Wells )
“A fun, absorbing read, Kitty Zeldis’ Not Our Kind takes place in post-WWII New York City. . . . the novel touches on religious and class prejudices as well as misogyny, a topic especially poignant in the #MeToo era we’re currently experiencing. . . . delving deeply into these issues set the stage for a personality- and drama-driven story. It is entertaining and captures the flavor of the city and class differences well. . . . Not Our Kind is an enjoyable read.” (Historical Novels Review)
About the Author
Kitty Zeldis is the pseudonym for a novelist and non-fiction writer of books for adults and children. She lives with her family in Brooklyn.
Yona Zeldis McDonough is the author of seven novels. Her short fiction, articles, and essays have been published in anthologies as well as in numerous national magazines and newspapers. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Kitty Zeldis On The Inspiration Behind Her Novel Not Our Kind:
Interview 9/4/18 Brooklyn Fans
The idea for my novel Not Our Kind was born at Vassar College, where I was student in the 1970s. There was enough visible diversity to make a Jewish girl feel she was not alone—I encountered plenty of Jews, both students and faculty. Yet while I didn’t experience much overt anti-Semitism, I was always keenly aware that Vassar had historically excluded people like me—I was the “not our kind” of my eventual novel’s title. I could feel it in the manners, the mores, the very air around me. Vassar was both WASP creation and WASP bastion, and I knew I didn’t entirely belong. In fact, it was at Vassar that I acquired the nickname that became my pen name. I had commented to a friend that my Hebrew first name and Polish surname weren’t good fits for the environment and that I should have been called Katherine Anne Worthington; he jokingly responded by calling me Kitty. It’s a name that stuck.
But back to anti-Semitism at Vassar. Although my freshman roommate casually noted, “Well, your people did murder our Lord,” a remark for which I then had no ready reply, it was the more passive, almost nonchalant anti-Semitism that stung most. I remember an English lit class in which we’d been reading Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot and I said that I found the stereotypical characterizations of Jews in their poetry—greedy, money grubbing, hook nosed etc.— upsetting. A fellow student raised his hand and said, “Oh, well, that’s what everyone was like back then.” As if that should have cancelled out my discomfort, and made it, somehow, all right. And then there was the memorable evening that I went to hear a lecture on 18th century Rococo painting that was to be given by a well-regarded scholar visiting from Germany. Before he came to the lectern, someone from the Art History department read a short bio by way of introduction. I don’t know what I expected to hear, but it surely wasn’t that during World War II, this man had been a high ranking official—a commander, a general, I don’t recall which—in the military. A Nazi, in other words, though the word was not actually said.
It felt like my cheeks had burst into flame. I stood up and in my haste to leave, tripped over the feet of the people still seated in my row. The next day, I paid a visit to the German department; by then I had learned that they had been the ones to issue the invitation. I shared my feelings with the young professor from Bavaria who was the chairman. He was very handsome, with dark hair and eyes, and he seemed quite perplexed by my response. “We had no idea this would offend anyone,” he said earnestly. Well guess what? It did.
That was a defining moment, the memory of which lived inside me for decades, and it helped spark Not Our Kind, a novel I’ve described as Gentlemen’s Agreement, only with two women at the center. The anti-Semitism of the post-war period in America found expression in the quotas imposed by colleges (Vassar would have been one of those) and universities, as well as the apartment buildings, hotels, and entire towns which proudly called themselves restricted. This was the landscape I sought to construct and evoke as I wrote.
But anti-Semitism is more the by-product than the theme of Not Our Kind. I also wanted to explore how Jews made their way in the non-Jewish world, because that was my story too. Unlike the strictly Orthodox who remain sheltered within and nurtured by the confines of their communities, my protagonist Eleanor Moskowitz seeks a place in a larger world that often rebuffs and excludes her. How does she find happiness? And with whom? And what of the Bellamys—the Park Avenue family through which Eleanor’s initiation takes place? How do they reevaluate their own received prejudices when faced with Eleanor as a unique individual, and not the stereotype they have never had reason before to question? Though this story takes place in 1947, so many of the issues with which Eleanor and Patricia grapple still resonate and I hope Not Our Kind will give those issues a refreshed and renewed sense of urgency for today’s readers.
Kitty Zeldis On The Fashion In Not Our Kind:
“I’ve always loved clothes and fashion, so it was no surprise that these topics are given such ample play in my novel new, Not Our Kind. But the suits, slacks, frocks and coats described are not simply window-dressing; they are integral to the story, used to create a cultural and historical context as well as being indicators of class, status and character. To adapt the old adage, clothes do indeed make the woman, and the sartorial choices made by Eleanor, Patricia, Irina and Margaux help define and delineate their respective natures. Clothing, ultimately, is a vector that suggests identity and aspiration, reality and fantasy.
Then there are the hats—designed by Irina, worn and commented on by Eleanor, Patricia and others—which are in a category all their own. Today, a woman wearing a hat is an exception not a rule; hats are strictly optional, and tend to be worn in very hot weather (sun protection) or very cold (warmth). But in the 1940’s, a woman’s outfit was not considered complete without one; her hat was the finishing touch that pulled together the rest of her look. This particular bit of history dovetailed nicely with my themes and goals for the book. Irina, the immigrant without education or money, still has something that rich women can admire—her taste and skill. Eleanor straddles her mother’s world and that of Patricia, who represents something she can only aspire to, and never attain. In order to develop the idea, I did research into how hats were made and sold. I looked at scads of hats, in museums, books and on-line. I believe the result made the texture of the novel more convincing and more resonant, and think women readers will feel the same way.” Read More