Sonderbooks Book Review of

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store

by James McBride

read by Dominic Hoffman

The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store

by James McBride
read by Dominic Hoffman

Review posted May 2, 2024.
Books on Tape, 2023. 12 hours, 22 minutes.
Review written April 13, 2024, from a library eaudiobook.

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store is a sweeping historical novel about the 1930s Chicken Hill neighborhood of Pottstown, outside Philadelphia, where immigrant Jews from all over Europe and African Americans from the South were trying to live a good life -- despite the annual parade where prominent white members of the town council marched in their KKK regalia.

The main focus of the book is Chona Ludlow, who lives above the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store with her husband Moshe, who runs a theater, and found business got better when he brought in Black performers. Chona grew up in Pottstown, with a limp from polio, and Moshe fell for her when he began working in her father's store.

There are lots more characters, and each one is introduced with a rambling tale of their back story and how they relate to the other characters we've met. I didn't approach this literary novel the right way -- taking an unplanned break from it for three days when I went with a group of friends to see the total solar eclipse. It was already hard to keep the various characters straight, and that about did me in.

But as I was thinking about quitting in the middle, I read the audiobook description and was reminded that the book began with a dead body found forty years later in an old well. And it sounded like things were heating up about the deaf Black boy that Chona was helping keep hidden from the authorities, who wanted to put him in an institution.

So I was glad I finished. The various plot lines and various characters all came together at the end of the book, forming a kind of heist novel -- trying to rescue the deaf Black boy.

Read or listen to this when you're in the mood for a literary novel, and don't pause for three days in the middle -- and I'm sure you'll find it's well-crafted. I did listen to the beginning all over again when I was done to more fully appreciate how the author brought things full circle and explained everything they'd found with the body in the well.