Rifke: An Improbable Life

Rosalie Wise Sharp, Author
Rosalie Wise Sharp, Author ECW Press $34.95 (220p) ISBN 978-1-55022-775-8
Reviewed on: 04/02/2007
Release date: 04/01/2007
Paperback - 234 pages - 978-0-14-317148-5
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Readers expecting a whirl through the life of the extremely wealthy-in Sharp's case, the wife of the founder of the Four Seasons Hotel empire-will be surprised and humbled by this honest, arresting memoir. Looking back from age 70, Sharp recalls growing up poor, awkward and lonely in her immigrant parents' North Toronto home, a lone island of Jewish life-a simulacrum of their native Poland-amidst a working-class Christian community. Smart, hard-working and imaginative, ""Rifke"" was stifled by no-nonsense parents, whose remaining family would vanish in the Holocaust, and the anti-Semitism of her insular neighborhood. Sharp recalls attempts to pass as a Gentile, her discovery of books and her introduction, at age 16, to future husband Isadore Sharp, then a young athletic man in the building business. From there comes marriage, travel, work and children-four handsome, intelligent boys-a full life that Sharp recalls in lucid, breezy prose. The heart of Sharp's tale is the loss f her son Christopher, at age 18, to cancer. The powerful sense of perseverance that pulls Sharp through that tragedy is further illuminated in carefully wrought chapters on the last communications from her European relatives and the story of Ozarow, Poland, her family's ravished hometown.
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