In Rodinsky’s Room Rachel Lichtenstein tries to reconstruct the life of the lonely inhabitant of the mysterious room above the old synagogue in Princelet Street. The author’s efforts are aimed at depicting a vivid image of the man: discovering what kind of person he was, how he died, how he lived, where he came from, in order to save David from becoming a stereotyped urban legend and return him his dignity.
Lichtenstein digs the layers of the Jewish East End life as a historical detective. She looks for witnesses, patiently interviews them and collects many different images, many possible “Davids”. She also employs the methods of historical research, scrutinizing archives to gather all the written evidence she needed.
One of the most remarkable features of this inquiry is respect: the interviewees are never pushed to give information, Rodinsky’s belongings are treated with thorough attention and the Princelet Street synagogue is closely guarded against the vicious attacks of modernity.
Another key element of Lichtenstein’s work is travel. Travelling across England to discover the Longrove mental hospital, where Rodinsky died, but above all travelling across the heart of Eastern Europe and Israel. The quest for Rodinsky’s roots that becomes a quest of purpose. Travel confers meaning to the displaced identity of a Yiddish Hasidic Jew in London, and mostly travel to understand the horror that cannot be understood, the Holocaust, and honouring primo Levi’s memento “Remember that this has happened”.
Rodinsky’s Room is more than the reconstruction of a fragmented identity is the story of the author’s journey to reconnect with her heritage and preserve the memory of her people. It is a spiritual journey, the tale of a woman rediscovering her faith and finding a new spiritual life. This quest for meaning gives the book the freedom to transcend its cultural boundaries and become universal. Though not everyone is Jewish, everyone has to deal with his cultural in order to build an individual identity and find an answer to life’s questions.