Skip to content

Layla Promotions’ Book Review

Hands of Gold Book Review By Layla Promotions

Sam Fox, the main character in “Hands of Gold: One Man’s Quest to Find the Silver Lining in Misfortune,” is an imperfect man who navigates through the challenges of life just like all the rest of us. Sometimes he’s a putz. Other times a mensch. He laments. He celebrates. He questions. What’s so remarkable? you almost hear him saying in the Yiddish-sprinkled vernacular that author Roni Robbins captures so well. Between the lines, however, is simple but profound wisdom on living that transcends time, place, and even culture.

Twenty years in the making, the book has been a labor of love. Although slight variances in details and changes in names classify the book as a work of fiction, Robbins sought to create a story based on the life of her Jewish immigrant grandfather using recordings he made shortly before his death.

The book is divided into three sections. The beginning details life in Hungary in the first few decades of the 20th century. Between his youthful antics, conflicts with family members, and the first blooms of romance are the shadows of antisemitism that will eventually claim the lives of family members in Auschwitz. The second part details his life from the time he arrives in North America. He carves out a career, marries the woman he loves, and raises a family with her– all while fighting to recover from a chronic illness. The last section picks up after World War II and describes the aftermath of the Holocaust, his pride in his grown children, and the sunset of a 65-year marriage.

Sam arrives in America with little more than the clothes on his back and struggles with having little in the way of language, skills, or money, but despite these difficulties he is forever thankful for the opportunity: The melting pot of America extends this right to speak my mind and hold strong to my religious beliefs, and I take those privileges seriously as they are not so readily available elsewhere…. If you only knew how difficult it was to even get to this country….You don’t know about freedom like I know about freedom.” With determination, an eye for opportunity, and a little luck he becomes a successful tailor.

He finds like-minded persistence in Hannah, the woman who becomes his wife, and together they navigate the challenges of raising a family despite limited means. When Sam develops tuberculosis, their financial circumstances become even more dire, and many times they go without food so that their children can eat. And just when things begin to go well for them, new challenges come along. “If there’s something I’ve learned,” says Sam,” it’s that some days start out badly and don’t get any better. Other days are quite momentous, and you have to hold tight to those. Be thankful for every day you experience love and blessings, because you never know when your faith will be tested again”.

The faith they shared was at the center of the life he and Hannah built together. Sam describes it as, “a commitment to Judaism that is passed down over generations, through holiday celebrations and attendance in Hebrew school and family gatherings. How important it was for our faith to continue after all our people had been through.” These common beliefs help to form a bond between them that lasts a lifetime. Robbins calls their love story, in which they died exactly a year apart, “almost too real to be true, but it was.”
Robbins sees parallels in the events of the book and the present day. “We think the past is the past, but we’re going to repeat it if we don’t take notice of the struggles that people went through,” she said. She hopes that herbook will strike a chord among people of all faiths, and, in some small way, help to relieve prejudice and its effects around the world. “Maybe the way to try to combat hatred is to have a better understanding and education of people who are different,” she said.

Several of Sam’s siblings and many nieces and nephews were murdered in the hatred that became the Holocaust, and Sam spends a lifetime wondering why he didn’t see it coming and what he should have done. “How could it be believed that such atrocities would take place, that human beings could be so evil to others? It’s a somber reminder to take notice of what is going on around us.

“Ultimately, I’d face the same trite questions as other survivors,” Sam says, “Why them and not me? Why didn’t God intervene?” But despite these questions with no answers, he carries on: “When I get up in the morning, when I go to sleep, I tell the Almighty what I think, how grateful I am to be alive and to have my family. I still fight with Him; question why bad things happen to good people and the like. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been questioning…and yet, I hold out for hope”.

Both the life detailed in this story and the act of writing the story exemplify the Jewish concept of mitzvah — acts of righteousness that bring light to the world. Sam has done little that could be characterized as remarkable, and he is not a perfect man, yet by living a life in which hardships are faced with chutzpah, family and faith are prioritized, and blessings are counted all the while, his story offers a roadmap to living a meaningful life. Robbins has faithfully rendered such a life and, in so doing, reminds us that anyone can be a hero simply by choosing our response to our circumstances.

We can learn much from the story of Sam. “God and I understand each other, I think,” he says. “He doesn’t talk back to me directly, but I get this overwhelming message in my mind in talking it over with myself: Just do what you have to do as best as you know how.” 

Robbins will be discussing and signing copies of her book on March 9 at Barnes and Noble, 4475 Roswell Road, Marietta, GA 30062. Details of the even can be found here:

Leave a Reply