A “Success Story”

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, “A Birthday in London” (1963)
  • Lilian R. Furst


“ ‘Sometimes I say to myself, what have you achieved in your life? And then I answer myself I have survived, I am still alive, and this is already a success story’ ” (138). This is the conclusion of Karl Lumbik, one of the three guests at Sonia Wolff’s birthday party in Swiss Cottage, a pleasant area of London where many of the better-off escapees lived. Instead of settling in the traditional Jewish enclaves in the East End of London, they gravitated to the more attractive parts of the city, notably St. John’s Wood, Hampstead, and Swiss Cottage. The time is left open, probably the later 1950s when most of the former “refugees” were well established in their new environment, spoke English fluently, and had become British citizens. Theirs are success stories. Another of the guests, Mrs. Gottlob (whose name means “Praise God”), echoes Lumbik: “ ‘here we all are, no bones broken’ ” (128), and later points out that they are all “ ‘healthy and alive’ ” (138). “ ‘What else matters?’ ” she asks. This is the positive reading of these escapees’ situation; however it defines success in modest, even minimal terms, which suggests how the escapees’ view of themselves and of the world may depart from the norm that would be likely to project rather higher expectations for success.


Success Story Short Story Birthday Party British Citizen Random Destination 
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© Lilian R. Furst 2005

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  • Lilian R. Furst

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