"What the hell are penguins?" he asked.
"It's shorthand for my parents -- well, my father now -- and my uncle and aunt," I explained, sipping some water. "Actually, all the refugees."
"The 'displaced persons' of World War Two, survivors of the concentration camps and labor camps. You saw a couple of them at Max's poker game. No doubt you noticed they're all short, squat, with shiny heads -- and they walk funny, kind of ambling side to side, like penguins." (from Penguin Luck, page 39)
When I first saw the cover of Penguin Luck by Kay Mupetson, I assumed it was going to be the standard chick lit novel -- but (thankfully) I was wrong. The cover actually says little about this ambitious novel about a young woman juggling a career, a marriage that shocked her friends and family, motherhood, and ghosts of the Holocaust.
Set in New York City in the 1990s, Penguin Luck tells the story of Doreen Lowe, a young lawyer and the daughter of Holocaust survivors, known in the book as "penguins." (See the quoted passage above) She's set in a routine of never staying at work late, playing poker with her friends, and handling paperwork once a week for her father and uncle's imported glass business when she meets Ty Rockwell, an investment banker interested in starting a telecommunications company. Despite being engaged to a businessman from a well-to-do Jewish family, Doreen is immediately attracted to Ty, and after spending only a few weeks together, they marry in a spur-of-the-moment ceremony. Doreen's closest friends, Regina and Lulu, are surprised by the marriage but believe time will tell whether or not she made a mistake. Doreen's father, Max, however, is infuriated, insisting she has abandoned her family's history by marrying Ty. Mupetson then follows Doreen over a handful of years as Ty's new company takes off and she struggles to stay close to her father, take care of her son, and work at one of Ty's firms as legal counsel.
I must admit that I enjoyed Penguin Luck more than I expected to, given that at times it felt like I was reading two separate books. Doreen's literal ghosts -- relatives who perished in the Holocaust as children -- play a big role in the story. They appear frequently to urge Doreen to "carry on for them" and are upset when she marries Ty and doesn't produce more children to replace them. One of the reasons Doreen felt like she had to take a chance and pursue a relationship with Ty is that he believed her ghosts were real and listened when she talked about them. If Doreen's need to come to terms with her ghosts is one main aspect of Penguin Luck, then the evolution of her life as a wife, mom, and businesswoman amid the telecom boom is another. Both plots would have worked well on their own, and most of the time Mupetson does a good job integrating them, but at times I felt like there was too much going on in the book.
Even so, Penguin Luck is a realistic, emotional portrayal of one woman's attempts to make a life for herself free of the ghosts and burdens of family history and make her marriage work despite several ups and downs. While I wasn't much interested in the telecom aspect of the story, Mupetson shows readers how the industry took off without the boring business talk, and her descriptions of the city brought it to life and make me really excited about visiting in May for Book Expo America.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Penguin Luck from Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc. for review purposes. I am an Amazon affiliate.
© 2010, Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not copy or reproduce content without permission.