This book takes place during the depression in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, in a run-down neighborhood called Chicken Hill, inhabited by Jews and African Americans. Their cultures, beliefs, and traditions were very different, but their hearts and moral compasses were very much the same.
What I loved most about this book was the unforgettable Chona, a Jewess, handicapped from polio, full of faith and grace, less handicapped than most in the ways that matter. She was strong and inclusive, dignified and benevolent. She runs the Heaven and Earth grocery store, extending credit easily to anyone, without keeping a record of it. In one way its a losing proposition, in another, it is not. Her integrity shines through this book. Her husband, Moshe, was also won over by her gentle spirit and deep inquisitiveness, and opened his dance hall to the blacks, when that was a very unpopular thing to do. Turns out though, sponsoring the black bands in the early 30’s was very lucrative.
In this way the Jewish and black community is interwoven. I learned after reading this that the author’s mother was Jewish and his father was black, which explains a lot of where this book springs from.
One of the two despicable characters in this book is a white doctor, who belongs to the KKK. He’s the only white, non-Jew in the book, and does not acquit himself well. All the rest of the characters, minus one other, are wonderful, with names like, Dodo, Monkeypants, Big Soap, Fatty, and Addie.
There are many subplots here, which lead up to two murders, which occur at the end of the book. One of the murders is foreshadowed at the beginning of the book, and after I finished reading the whole novel, I had to go back and reread that first part.
The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store is mostly about the injustice of being different, the misnomer of being handicapped, and what real community is. Because the concept of evil in it gets a bit muddled by retribution, I give this book only four stars. However, you might want to read it for the excellent example of humanity that is Chona.