I found this book under a pile of papers in my closet about ten months ago and set it aside to talk about this Passover. Though I’d forgotten about it for many years, The Carp in the Bathtub was a story I loved as child. It’s hard to find books about a particular holiday that aren’t an explanation of a holiday so much as a story that takes place during it. This book, about a family who kills a carp every year to make gefilte fish for the holidays, will break your heart.
As the story goes, the narrator’s mother makes the best gefilte fish in the neighborhood. Rather than buy her fish live, kill it, and keep it in the freezer until fish-cooking time, Mama keeps her fish in the bathtub for the week or so before Passover. This way, her fish is delicious and fresh for the holiday. Unfortunately, this year, Mama’s children form a close bond with the carp, whom they call Joe. Joe is larger than carps of previous years, and he is friendly and sweet, even looking as if he wears a constant smile. The children love him. They don’t want their mother to kill him for Passover, and they try very hard to save his life.
As I said before, this book will break your heart. I’ve read it many times, but when I read it aloud to my son over the holiday, I could barely get through the entire thing without bawling continuously. Lynn listened too, with some horror, and after Ray had taken off to do something else, she remarked, “I don’t think he was ready for that story. And I don’t think he could handle your emotional response, either.”
Fair enough. It’s a wonderful story, though. Well-told, touching, and complicated. It’s probably explains why we are all much more comfortable buying our gefilte fish in jars, too. ABZ