The Fifty First Gamble (A brief excerpt from the novel.)

I’m in awe at the speed and distance my first blog post of my memoirs traveled within twenty four hours.  Thank you all so much for responding and passing it on.

After my first entry I had a flood of inquiries into the novel. So, over the next two weeks I am going to share a few condensed episodes from the novel itself just to introduce some of the characters and give you a taste of what the book is about.

The novel is based loosely on our family’s experience in Southern Rhodesia, but the novel is set in the fictitious town of Umzimtuti.  Rhodesian, Ronald Leavis, prefaced his book Hippodile with the following statement “The characters in this book are purely imaginary.  Any of my friends or enemies who resemble them have only themselves to blame.”

I also have in mind the motto of Google “Don’t be evil”.

Here’s the first episode.  I so look forward to your reactions to it as well as hear your memories and stories.  I will take great care to protect confidentiality and will request permission to use any material.

The Fifty First Gamble

“Physics! And how are you going to find work afterwards?”   Pa asked his son, Sunny Rubenstein, when it became time to go to university.

“Law then?”

“No!  You want to be able to work anywhere.  Now a doctor!  You’ll always have work.”

After Sunny Rubenstein qualified, he couldn’t find a housemanship.  He still lived at home and relied on his poker winnings to buy petrol for his Pa’s car.  When WWII broke out he volunteered immediately for the South African army.

“Putting yourself in harms way, is this how you reward us for spending so much on your education?”

His Mama wept.

After basic and officer training, Sunny Rubenstein was seconded to a Ugandan ambulance command. After Abyssinia, he married a ‘shiksa’.  More admonitions and weeping!  Pa and Mama went into mourning and wore black for a year.  His son was sickly.

When he prepared for demobilization, he wanted to specialize in plastic surgery. It would take years!   It was time to be realistic, again.  He was looking for a job, again.  Trouble was, everyone else was being demobbed too.

His 51st job prospect bore fruit. Umzimtuti in Southern Rhodesia was not a pretentious place.  He saw huge potential.  The Cheetah Gold Mine had the richest ore in the world: one ounce of gold for every ton of ore extracted.   As the mine doctor, the big bonus would be the mine house, with big verandahs, and a big garden.  He owed his little family this after the long hard years in the war living in one-bedroom flats.  A municipality five blocks square had sprung up beside the mine itself.  There too, were opportunities.  The mine doctor’s wife and child had already left for England.  He was anxious to hand over: a salary of £100 a month for a year; the balance of the revenue, estimated to be £300-£400 a month, going to goodwill.

“Actually, old chap,” said the good doctor.  “Would you mind awfully drawing up the agreement in Johannesburg with your lawyer?  You know small town:  nothing’s confidential.”

It seemed a bit odd, but Sunny said “Certainly.”

As the train pulled out of the station, the doctor shouted, “I’ll even throw in my golf clubs.  I’ll leave them in the passage cupboard.”

It was all too good to be true.

Sunny Rubenstein made a to do list: a blood transfusion service for full surgical practice.  Hone his surgical skills, he’d have to be self sufficient.  Learn some basic dentistry, buy a Zeiss microscope, brush up on microscopy and, finally, get an x-ray machine and learn how to use it.  After five months of preparation he was all set.  To crown it all he managed to include an old army Ford in camouflage green as part of his demob entitlement.  What a coup!  Life was indeed looking up.

Loaded (a second baby was on the way, too, by then) Sunny and his wife Mavourneen set out for Southern Rhodesia. They crossed the Limpopo River onto Rhodes’ rough and ready Great North Road (Rhodes too had dashed dreams).

Hundreds of miles later, they reached Umzimtuti.  His wife was thrilled with the house.  The garden had huge potential.  What more could a wife and mother want?    His son  perked up considerably at the sight of not only a swing but a Wendy house outside.  A tricycle parked on the runway of a verandah inside was a thrill. What more could a small boy want?  The golf clubs were in the cupboard as promised. Sunny Rubenstein was finally running his own show!  The goodwill would all be paid off in a year.  What more could a doctor want?

What he didn’t know was that the goodwill was not the mine doctor’s to sell.  Like everything else, it belonged to the mine.

6 Comments

  • Janet

    Reply Reply May 2, 2010

    Diana,
    Years ago I read Michener’s The Covenant and learned so much about this part of the world. My knowledge is quite limited. I look forward to learning more about this area through your stories. You have piqued my interest.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 2, 2010

      Janet,
      I’m glad you are enjoying it. I’ll be posting next week again from the novel.

      Diana

  • Betty

    Reply Reply May 2, 2010

    I’m already hooked! Growing up with a Jewish friend, I know all your parental responses were dead-on perfect. I am intriqued by the wife and son, and want to know more…is a shiksa just a white non-Jew, or a girl from another country? I love that he was hornswaggled into coming, sort of like lamb to the slaughter, but embracing every moment….Diana, I love it! And I love the name Umzintuti. Please explain goodwill to me….is it like owing your soul to the company store? Keep up the wonderful work….Diana, wordsmith! Love, Betty

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 2, 2010

      Betty,
      Good! Yes, the family in the novel is straddled between the two cultures, neither Jewish or Christian. Later, the children view things from the periphery. I’m glad that for you I seem to have captured the Jewish voice.

      Diana

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 2, 2010

      Betty,
      Shiksa is Yiddish, a derogatory word for a non Jewish woman who is muscling in on Jewish territory. Judism is an exclusionary rather than inclusive society (particularly the Orthodox).

      Goodwill is the money you need to buy into a doctor’s private practice. The price is dependent on how established the practice is. In the novel the goodwill is considerable. It is three quarters of Rubenstein’s projected income for the year. He is working 18 hour days! But there is nothing to buy! It is a mine appointment. Yes, the mine pretty much owns everything.

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