A Kid for Two Farthings by Wolf Mankowitz (Canada) -(US)
Pages: 128 pages
Finished: Feb. 26, 2010
First Published: 1953 (Bloomsbury Group reprint Dec. 2009)
Genre: realistic fiction, British cozy
"It was thanks to Mr. Kadinsky that Joe knew a unicorn when he saw one."
Acquired: Received a review copy from Penguin Group(Canada).
Reason for Reading: I love early 20th century British lit. and I'm enchanted by the entire line of The Bloomsbury Group reprints.
Summary: Joe is six years old, lives on a street near Whitechapel which seems to be the Jewish quarter. Joe and his mother live in a room above Mr. Kadinsky's tailor shop; he is a trousers maker and his assistant Shmule is a young engaged pugilist training to work his way through the ranks to becoming a champion. Joe's father has gone to Africa to make a life for them and will be sending for him and his mother sometime. Joe mostly spends his days with Mr. Kadinsky in the shop while his mother works all day and Kadinsky is a talker and storyteller. He's told Joe the story of unicorns and why they no longer live in England but since everyone seems to be wishing for something Joe decides to check out the market anyway. If he can buy a unicorn he can make everyone's wishes come true and on that day what does he find but a unicorn, now the owner seems to think he's a crippled goat but Joe knows a baby unicorn when he sees one. You can even see the nub of his magical horn starting to grow in the centre of his forehead so Joe brings him home and Kadinsky pays for him. Perhaps now Joe can see that all his friends' humble wishes will come true.
Comments: This is a touching heart-warming story, what I would rather call a novella than a novel coming in at 128 pages and only that because of the large font. At first one is puzzled whether this might be a story for children, with the large font and the six year old protagonist. But it is not. We are shown all the poverty of the immigrant living conditions and the hardships of working continuously just to get by. Sure there are parts a child would enjoy, but not overall. The book is told in the third person and though we see things through Joe, a child's point of view for the majority of the time we also see from Mr. Kadinsky's where the tone and subject matter become deeper. Discussions of trade unions, business dealing and wrestling matches put the book above a children's story. Joe himself is a wise little boy who has learnt a lot in his adult world and often speaks with a deep wisdom that can only come from a child who has been in the adult world. But Joe is a sweet, kind, loving boy with an innocence about him that his world has not touched. He believes in unicorns and magic and this belief may just be enough to enrich everyone's lives. Wonderful characters and an inspiring ending, this book will sure to please readers who like to read about simpler times and want a good, clean read.