David Hirshberg


My Mother's Son


Hirshberg’s debut novel packs both emotional punch and a vivid portrait of Jewish American life in post- WWII Boston. A retiring radio comedian reminisces on his childhood, fitting himself into the larger picture of a Jewish immigrant family and focusing on one year, 1952, as a turning point in his coming-of- age. Family characteristics help define the shape Joel’s world takes, from his mother’s “ace of spades pronouncements” through his father’s nose for numbers and his Auntie Rose’s dream of becoming a circus performer. Away from home, Joel and brother Steven navigate the larger world with buddies Noodge Mauer, Myandrew, and Frankie, realizing that grown-ups don’t always tell the whole truth. Richly recounted incidents—a seemingly innocent scheme delivering envelopes of money, the death of a neighbor in Korea, Uncle Jake and Auntie Rose’s tale of a Kristallnacht escape—come together to form a sense of American life at a particular historical moment. Who you become, the author suggests, is an amalgam of who you know and the stories you assimilate. Readers will find connections here to Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000) and to Saul Bellow’s classic The Adventures of Augie March (1953).—Booklist (American Library Association), Starred Review.

Everyone lies when they’re telling family stories, particularly when they’re speaking to children. This is what Joel, the narrator of this fascinating debut by a pseudonymous author discovers as he matures. In the memories of his childhood in post–World War II Boston, Joel recalls friends and relatives who are not quite what they appeared to be. His Jewish, Italian, and Irish neighbors are all interested in making a living, much of it illegally by cooking the books, betting on sure winners at the track, or fixing elections. They use Joel and his brother to deliver messages to the appropriate individuals. Later, as Joel grows up and becomes a popular radio storyteller, he learns the truth about his family and friends, who they really were, and what they actually did to survive. In recalling the polio epidemic of the 1950s, the Korean War, Holocaust memories, the relocation of the Boston Braves to Milwaukee, and the election of John F. Kennedy, Hirshberg offers us a glimpse of the past through the eyes of a young boy moving into his teens. This amazing mosaic of fact and fiction will hold readers in its grip from the first to last page.—Library Journal, Starred Review


An extraordinary, captivating debut novel.

With the opening line of—“When you’re a kid, they don’t always tell you the truth”—you know you have really set a high bar for yourself. It is like the baseball player who hits a home run on his first at bat. Some cynics say that it can only go down from there. But in this case, David Hirshberg not only hit it out of the park with his first swing, his debut novel keeps smacking balls over the fence, right through to the end. This opening line lays bare one of childhood’s essential mysteries: that often, what parents and other adults say is usually what is most convenient for the adults.

The narrator starts out with a beautiful setup: “Reflected in it is a story with a tale both personal and universal that I’d skirted around gingerly for all these years, a memoir about betrayal, disease, gambling, death, bribery, persecution, kidnapping, war, politics, escape, loyalty, forgery, unconditional love, depression, Marines, theft, girls and a dog. In it you’ll find extraordinary revelations about members of my family and the world we lived in, beginning at a time when I caught a glimpse into adulthood, or, as I think about it now, perhaps this was simply the first peep into the rearview mirror of childhood.” Who knows what is true and what is a feint in this outstanding novel that is hard to believe is the first bit of writing from this author. He keeps you guessing, because that is what life is really like, rarely a straight line from A to B, more often a set of paths that sometimes circle back to the beginning, so that you have to reassess what you thought you knew.

The language is musical, the humor is palpable, the narrative is riveting, the characters are fully developed; you care about them, perhaps because you know someone like them or maybe there is a part of you in one or more of them. And Hirshberg ties up the multiple threads into a comfy blanket that you can snuggle up with, ruminating on how he uses the events of the first half of the 20th century as a mirror to reflect the current issues that are in the news every day—immigration, war, communicable disease, the business of sports, and political shenanigans that have come to define early 21st century America.

It is quite a feat, and this spectator is in the stands, clapping for this rookie author who looks like he is going to be an All-Star.—Amazon Customer Review, Alexander, Verified Purchase, 5.0 out of 5 stars 


"David Hirshberg has written an engrossing novel that belongs in the canon of great American Jewish literature. Filled with stories of concealed truths, shattering discoveries, and unconditional love, My Mother’s Son is a twenty-first century exploration of the formative American Jewish experiences of the twentieth century. It transports the reader to  that other time even as it speaks to the urgent concerns of today.” — Dan Libenson, founder and president of the Institute for the Next Jewish Future and co-creator of the Judaism Unbound podcast.—Dan Libenson, founder and president of the Institute for the Next Jewish Future and co-host of the Judaism Unbound podcast.

“Sometimes it’s the lies we grow up with — more than the truths — that define who we are and where we come from. That’s the message of David Hirshberg’s coming-of-age novel, MY MOTHER’S SON. Through the eyes of young Joel, we witness essential elements of the mid-twentieth century: the scourge of polio, the magic of baseball, the repercussions of war, and the development of modern Jewish-American culture. But above all, we come to understand why Joel is his mother’s son — and how that phrase resonates for us all. A deceptively simple, profoundly memorable novel.”—Barbara Solomon Josselsohn, author of The Last Dreamer

“MY MOTHER’S SON starts out as a story of a family’s life in Jewish Boston and grows as big as a century. Fascism lurks. Polio carries off its prey. Only-in-Boston characters pop up. To wit: Murph Feldman, the Jew of Southie. Time rushes in only to roll back as the stories within stories reveal truths not only about one family and one city, but about America in the 1950s and, by extension, today. Hirshberg is a raconteur who feels no need to stop to get a sip of water.”—Paul Goldberg, author of The Yid and2017 Finalist — Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature and 2016 Finalist - National Jewish Book Award Goldberg Prize for Debut Fiction

“Reading MY MOTHER’S SON is like opening up a time capsule and sifting among the treasures. 1952 Boston comes alive as David Hirshberg weaves the artifacts of that year into the fabric of his poignant narrative. This provocative novel is the colorful description of life as seen through the eyes of thirteen-year-old Joel, and at the same time, a telling and re-telling that allows adult Joel to process and decipher the truths and richness of all that transpires. I enjoyed it from beginning to end.”—Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg, author of Eden: A Novel

“MY MOTHER'S SON is a richly sprawling and singular Jewish-American saga.  It echoes with an unwashed Boston brogue and a heart that beats with a Holocaust past.  And it entertains with wit, humor and secrets both dark and luminously incandescent.”—Thane Rosenbaum, author of The Golems of Gotham and Second Hand Smoke

David Hirshberg's engrossing debut not only captures the coming-of-age of a young boy in the wake of WWII, it also layers hidden identities, family secrets, and larger-than-life characters from Boston's past into a story that will leave readers deeply satisfied.”—Crystal King, author of Feast of Sorrow

“Only occasionally does a novel like this come along—one that sculpts a vivid, irresistible portrait of a life and times.  Evocative of the 1950’s, with cinematic flashbacks and flash-forwards, it is clever, poignant and funny. Hirshberg allows the reader to eavesdrop on complicated 1950s family intimacies that had been clouded by years of denial, secrecy and self-preservation. What he exposes are the riches left behind, those that reveal the truth of the human condition. This is a book worth reading, probably more than once.”—Mitch Markowitz, screenwriter of Good Morning, Vietnam


Copyright 2021 David Hirshberg