Pomeranski by Gerald Jacobs was published by Quartet Books on 30 April 2020.
Quartet Books have kindly allowed me to share an extract from the book.
The spectators were caught up in an irresistible tide of feeling as one man’s head jarred and sprang back from the shudder of a gloved fist while the other man swung wildly in pursuit. Raw red bruises appeared and spread darkly and alarmingly. The whole audience was on its feet. Joey and Sam were roaring their appreciation and encouragement. Even Sandra was involved, alternately covering her eyes with her hands or cheering and throwing her arms into the pitch-black smoke-filled air.
As for Benny, when the fight reached its astonishing climax, he was standing, roaring, his eyes alight and his mind oblivious to everything other than the battle with which he, too, was now joined. Simon, never having seen Benny in such a passionate state, was gazing open-mouthed at his father as much as he was watching what was going on in the ring.
By the seventh round, exhausted but still wriggling like a pair of goldfish, Harry Gilbert and the Scotsman were leaning on each other, their heads buried within the twisted ball that their two bodies had become. At this point, they looked more like wrestlers than boxers. Suddenly, however, they jerked apart. Harry, one swollen eye sealed up, came out of the clinch with an uppercut that met his opponent’s chin. At the same precise moment that opponent’s right hand completed a circling motion with a thud to the side of young Harry’s head.
Both men dropped to the canvas. The referee crouched over them, looking anxiously out through the ropes. Lit up against the blackness by a beam of blinding light, he began counting. And counting. And counting. Neither man managed to get up in time. That was it – a double knockout. A ‘one-in-a-million chance’, as Benny put it. And when, shortly afterwards with the assistance of their trainers, the two fighters rose to their feet, they again fell into each other’s arms, this time with a display of affection that almost matched their earlier hostility.
Benny was hoarse. Tears emerged in the corners of his eyes. He turned to Simon and said, ‘Hello, son,’ as if surprised to see him there. He stroked the side of his son’s head and then, as the next two boxers, along with their ‘seconds’, took up their respective corner positions, Benny reverted to his normal level of enjoyment, not looking much at what was happening in the ring but revelling in the noise and the lights, the hugging and face-patting greetings and, at last, the slow, sauntering exit into the night with Sam, Joey and Sandra. Simon followed a little behind them, floating on an invisible cloud.
About the book
As Benny ‘the Fixer’ Pomeranski is laid to rest on a cold November morning at the turn of the twenty-first century, a motley crew of survivors from his youth assembles around the grave, its members ‘identified by their lived-in faces – faces that indicated a singular kind of past, a chequered hinterland.’ This encounter with the past, and the discovery of his father Benny’s diaries, leads Simon Pomeranski back to his childhood and the post-war days of the Astorians, a small group of criminals and traders in ‘swag’ who ran their business from Brixton Market and exercised their own particular brand of justice.
From this wonderful assortment of characters we are introduced to ‘Spanish’ Joe, the cultured Russian émigré, Sam ‘the Stick’, with his wounded machismo and penchant for violent retribution, and the dazzling songstress Estelle, among others. Front and centre in their world, though, is Benny himself, the autodidact owner of Pomeranski Gowns, whose passionate affair with Estelle marks the beginning of a new era for the Astorians.
About the author
Gerald Jacobs is the literary editor of the Jewish Chronicle. His book Sacred Games was published by Hamish Hamilton in 1995, Penguin in 1996 and re-issued by Faber in 2011. He published Nine Love Letters with Quartet in 2016. He lives in London.