Family's Memories of `Papa' `Dead Leaves' Is Slice of America's Social and Political History

Article excerpt

THE DEAD LEAVES A novel by Barbara Jacobs Translated by David Unger 128 pages, Curbstone, $10.95

`THIS IS the story of papa, the papa of us all."

This beginning of "The Dead Leaves," by Mexican writer Barbara Jacobs, succinctly summarizes her short novel. It is a familiar story, the kind of story about a loved and revered parent told by grown children to one another and their own children years later at family gatherings.

"Papa" is the youngest child of Lebanese immigrants to the United States who settle in New York City. His parents are Grandfather Rashid and Mama Salima, 20 years younger than her husband.

Grandfather Rashid dies on a visit home to Lebanon, and Mama Salima moves the Persian rug business to Saginaw, Mich. She is less interested in rugs than in reading, a love of books passed on to Papa. Papa's older siblings are Uncle Gustav and Aunt Lou-ma.

The reader never learns Papa's name, because he and his children are of a culture that would never call their father anything other than Papa. The only possible clue is a quote at the beginning of Part II of the story, attributed to Emile Jacobs, perhaps the author's father and the inspiration for Papa, for a sense of the autobiographical permeates the work. …