Not Our Kind by Kitty Zeldis brings to life post World War II in New York City. 1947 was an enlightening year for two women and a child, brought together after a traffic accident. Eleanor, a young Jewish teacher and a WASPy married woman, Patricia, find an unexpected connection, after Eleanor is hired to home school Patricia’s daughter Margeaux, who sees herself as a polio cripple. This story delves into class issues, differences of religion, women’s roles, love, friendship, motherhood, and coming of age. Those who enjoy the popular made for TV show Mrs. Maisel will definitely enjoy this novel since both concentrate on Jewish life in New York City, post World War II.
Eleanor forms an instant bond with Margaux. Soon the idealistic young woman is filling the bright young girl’s mind with Shakespeare and Latin. Patricia Bellamy is willing to overlook the fact Eleanor is Jewish because she sees her daughter thriving and willing to venture out in the world again. But this perfect job has some catches. Eleanor must disguise her name, changing it to Moss instead of Moskowitz, so other building residents won’t know she is Jewish. Patricia is worried about what her family and society friends will think because she hired a Jewish woman even though she is extremely happy with the effect she has on Margaux. More problems for Eleanor arises after she joins the Bellamy family in their Connecticut summer home to continue tutoring Margaux. Wynn, Patricia’s husband, is an Anti-Semite who sexually harassed and assaulted Eleanor decades before the Me-Too era. Patricia also realizes that a romance is brewing between her bohemian brother, Tom, and Eleanor. After these lines are crossed, both Eleanor and Patricia will have to make important decisions that will resonate throughout their lives.
The story delves into class differences, prejudice, and love. Zeldis brilliantly illuminates how two worlds collide, and the effect it had on these women as they contemplate how a Jew can find a place in a non-Jewish world. Readers will turn the pages wondering what path in life each character will take.
Elise Cooper: The back of the book says Kitty Zeldis is the ‘non de plume’ of a Brooklyn based author?
Kitty Zeldis: The decision to use a pen name was Harper Collins. This book is different than all the other type of books I have written in the past. Kitty was my college nickname. I said I felt more like a Kathryn and a friend then called me Kitty. So this is how my name came about.
EC: Are you similar to Eleanor?
KZ: I also went to Vassar College. But I went in the 1970s and my character went in the 1940s. Both of us feel lucky we went there. But we were confronted with the WASP culture in a big magnitude. I felt as in the title of this book, I was “Not Our Kind,” both a little intimidated and excited as I was exposed to this new world.
EC: Do you think the story can also appeal to those readers who are not Jewish?
KZ: Yes. Because the essence of the story is about outcasts, being different. Whether it is religiously, as with Eleanor, or someone with a handicap, as with Margaux.
EC: Did you ever see the movie “Gentleman’s Agreement” and were you influenced?
KZ: I did see the movie and read the book before I started writing. It explores the same issues and time period as this novel. But in my case, there are two women at the core of the story.
EC: It also delves into women striving for their independence?
KZ: The post war period had a lot of optimism and prosperity in this country. But Jews still suffered the emotional and social hurts. Both Patricia and Eleanor struggled against their roles and expectations. Eleanor decided to work and move in by herself, while Patricia knowing she was Jewish hired her anyway and contemplated divorce. Eleanor went on a journey as she looked for where she might fit into this new world. She always felt on guard when in the Bellamy household. Yet, Eleanor still had to deal with all the restrictions where she was not allowed in certain clubs, towns, housing, and jobs.
EC: Were hats a symbolism since they play an important role in the Jewish religion?
KZ: I think sub-consciously yes because I write intuitively. But I also wanted to show that it was a point of commonality for the women. I hope readers were able to learn about making hats, and found that subject interesting.
EC: You delve into polio and how Margaux felt like a crippled?
KZ: The experience of having polio redefined her. She started out as a happy, pampered, beautiful child with high expectations. After this horrible disease, she is left with a defect that changes who she will be and how she will make a life for herself. She became a candid survivor. Eleanor refuses to see her as a cripple, which is part of the reason Margaux is so attracted to her.
EC: How would you describe Eleanor?
KZ: Smart, compassionate, kind, capable, resourceful, and honest. She has partial role models in her mother, Patricia, and her publishing boss. She does not accept what is conventionally out there for her. Because of this she has courage to venture out.
EC: How would you describe Patricia?
KZ: She is more conventional than Eleanor. Her life is more pre-ordained. She is willing to see things in a different light. For instance, she hired a Jewish tutor because she saw the effect Eleanor had on her daughter. I think she is a very good mother and possibly her daughter was her conscience.
EC: How would you describe Tom?
KZ: He grew and changed throughout the story. In the beginning, he is definitely a heart breaker, a bad boy who never wanted a commitment or to settle down. He could charm his way through anything.
EC: Please explain the book quote, “when you write, you can be anyone”?
KZ: The joys of being a novelist. Reading allows us to slip into another consciousness and identity. It promotes a kind of empathy and tolerance because you try to imagine someone else’s point of view. For example, Wynn, Patricia’s husband was always groping women, saying, “If a woman walks around half naked like that, what can she expect.” I wanted to explore the women who present themselves in a sexual way and what will be the response versus Eleanor who was purely innocent and had to deal with his abuse.
EC: Your next book?
KZ: A historical novel set in 1916/17 in New Orleans. A Russian Jewish immigrant comes here to escape the Pogroms and becomes a Madam. After the US enters WWI suddenly her world is turned upside down and she must reinvent herself.
Not Our Kind
One 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.