Naomi Ragen is an international bestseller novelist, a writer of and about the core of human life. Chains Around the Grass (The Toby Press, 2003) is the book Ms. Ragen says that she became an author to write. Setting the story of a poor Jewish family in the heart of America, Naomi Ragen calls for a revision of attitudes shaped by the sickness of reckless capitalism and its people who have turned into machines fuelled with business.
The novel’s prologue is captivating. Through the eyes of the moment, little Sara Markowitz is shown sitting in humility in her rich uncle’s house with her mother Ruth and brother Jesse out for the funeral of her father David Markowitz. Pursuing the old American dream of a well-off future, David never realizes the greater need of familial love that is showering him all along and the lives of his family chug along the uncertain paths of the business world. With the loss of David the family slumps into an indefinable channel of struggle against the demands of the society and its own integrity.
Chains Around the Grass is one of the semantically richest works carrying a number of issues. Sick capitalist values are questioned in the suffering of widowed Ruth and her children with several close, rich, relatives. The dilemma of a poor minority’s identity under social pressure speaks in Ruth’s resentment of changing Jesse’s family name to ‘Marks’. What underlies insanity is illustrated cogently in Jesse’s character. Sara’s character embodies the process of personality development under early childhood traumas. The best explored is, perhaps, gender inequality prevailing in the social world, best instantiated in Sara’s feelings of hatred towards her own brother.
Naomi Ragen’s striking symbolism in her novel’s situations is the quality of her work that best complements other merits. The heaven of idealized life is shattered to ‘chips flying away under time’s relentless chisel’. When they were united and beautiful like young lush grass, they were out of reach on account of ‘chains’ around them. One set of ‘ropes’ is replaced with another and the dream of catching your life’s beauty is never actualized until you see your life’s time ending abruptly like a dream. Naomi Ragen is at her best in justice with her characters. Reality comes to them as they finally learn to ‘measure their life with the right yardstick’. Through Ruth’s faith, we all know that a purely humanistic relationship is possible if we know the beauty of our inner self. It is an illustration of Eric Fromm’s humanistic psychoanalysis; a story as real as reading one’s own mind.
With all its beauty of language and elements of realistic fiction, Chains Around the Grass carries a problem as a book. The title and the prologue are suggestive of Sara as being the protagonist. It is through Sara’s eyes that the tenderness of life and monsters of fear are revealed to us but Sara’s character is treated scantily as compared to that of her parents and her brother Jesse. Essentially it is the story of Ruth’s life. Her figure could have given a better illustrative title and prologue.