Media

Come Landfall

Profile:

Mobile Bay Magazine: “Roy Hoffman, True Man of Letters,” by John Sledge, March, 2013
Birmingham News: “5 Questions With Author Roy Hoffman,” by Bob Carlton, April 20, 2014
Reader’s Digest: “7 Great Books From Small Presses Worth Your Time,” April, 2014
WWNO Radio, New Orleans, “The Reading Life” Roy Hoffman interview by Susan Larson, April 22, 2014
WRFL Radio, Lexington, KY, “Accents” Radio, Roy Hoffman interview by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, May 30, 2014
KET Public Television, Kentucky, “One-To-One,” Roy Hoffman interview by Bill Goodman, air date, summer, 2014
APTV Public Television, Alabama, “Bookmark,” Roy Hoffman interview by Don Noble, air date, summer, 2014

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Reviews in magazine, newspaper, and radio:

“2nd and Church,” a magazine for writers, Nashville, May, 2014
Come Landfall
Reviewed by Linda Busby Parker

Fiction isn’t spawned totally from the imagination—it’s generally hatched from an inkling of truth that is combined with inspiration and a flight of fancy. Such can be said of Roy Hoffman’s latest novel, Come Landfall. For Hoffman, the inkling of truth was the loss of his uncle, Major Roy Robinton, U.S. Marine Corps, World War II. Major Robinton was captured and held on Japanese “Hellship” and disappeared with no record of his final days. The story of this lost uncle—Hoffman’s namesake—has become part of Hoffman family history, and via Come Landfall, Hoffman allows readers to share part of this history.

The novel is set on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina barreled toward the stately antebellum homes (old Mississippi) and upscale casinos (new Mississippi) that lined U.S. 90. Hoffman knows the Alabama/Mississippi Gulf Coast because, as a journalist, he covered this area for many years. His understanding of the place, the people, and the culture is a hallmark of his writing—Come Landfall is no exception. Hoffman is at home in this place, among these people—his place, his people.

Come Landfall is the story of three disparately different women and the men they love—Nana, an elderly woman who resides in a nursing home; Angela, a young woman who works at the Cotton Gin Casino; and Cam, a sixteen-year-old Vietnamese teenager. These women all fall for men in uniforms—various kinds of uniforms—under varying circumstances. The story is narrowly focused, yet it expands across time and place to encompass three lives and three entirely different situations which Hoffman expertly weaves together.

As a fan of Roy Hoffman’s writing, I have read his two earlier novels, Almost Family and Chicken Dreaming Corn, and while those books make for good reading, I find Come Landfall to be his strongest work of fiction to date.

Roy Hoffman makes the weaving of this complex story appear simple. In this regard, such writers as Ernest Gaines come to mind, and that’s good company indeed! Come Landfall is rich in both its history and in its story.

Linda Busby Parker is the author of Seven Laurels, a novel. She is an adjunct professor of writing at the University of South Alabama, and she is publisher of Excalibur Press.

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Biloxi/Gulfport, Miss. “Sun-Herald” 4/19/14
“Come Landfall”
Reviewed by Scott Hawkins, arts editor

The dawn of the new millennium was a bustling time on the Mississippi Coast, with its active casino industry, thriving military community and eclectic population mix.

The peaceful serenity of the Mississippi Coast in 2002 wouldn’t last long, however, as two wars were in the making and one of the nation’s worst natural disasters, Hurricane Katrina, would hit a few short years later.

That is the backdrop for former Mobile Press-Register staff writer Roy Hoffman’s latest novel, “Come Landfall,” which captures that period through the stories of three women and their friends and family on the Mississippi Coast.

As the novel opens, Angela Sparks is a 20-something waitress at the Cotton Gin hotel and casino in Biloxi. She is making ends meet while juggling classes at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and taking care of her aging “Nana,” Christiane Fields, who suffers from dementia and lives in the Coastal Arms retirement home on the beach in Biloxi.

The two women befriend a young piano player named Cam Nguyen, a high school student who volunteers her time and talents to entertain residents at the retirement home.

Angela is on the outs with her current slacker boyfriend when she meets a young airman, but she is reluctant to date a military man because of her experience with her estranged father, a Vietnam veteran turned anti-war proponent, who left her since-deceased mother and took up with another woman.

Meanwhile, Nana pines away for her first husband, nicknamed “Rosey,” an airman who disappeared in World War II shortly after they were married, and Nana increasingly becomes disoriented, frequently wandering out of the retirement home alone at night and causing dismay until Angela takes her in to live with her in her apartment near the beach in Biloxi.

Cam prays to Bodhisattva Quan Am to protect her father, a shrimper who brought the family from Vietnam to the Coast during turbulent war times. Since then she has lost her mother, and she struggles to find love and acceptance.

Through those characters’ struggles to move forward with their lives and their back stories, Hoffman weaves an engaging tale that grabs the reader’s attention amid the backdrop of a nation building up for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

At the same time, Hoffman draws from his own family history to tell the story of Nana’s lost “Rosey,” who Hoffman said is based on his mother’s brother, Maj. Roy Robinton, U.S. Marine Corps, who was lost in the prisoner of war camps in the Philippines in World War II.

Mississippi Coast readers will enjoy Hoffman’s detailed descriptions of the area and his imaginative adjustments to some of the landscapes. Many landmarks, including antebellum homes, casinos and businesses ring true and paint a vivid picture of the Coast prior to Katrina.

The book grabs the reader’s attention and holds it with well-developed characters while generating much anticipation of how their stories will pan out against the odds, especially since, as readers who lived through that period know, the turmoil is building to Aug. 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Mississippi Coast.

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Alabama Public Radio, reprint in Tuscaloosa News, May 25, 2014
Come Landfall
DON NOBLE: Former newsman explores more family stories

The novels of Roy Hoffman seem to flow from two sources.

First, as a writer for the Mobile Press-Register, Hoffman wrote scores of stories, profiling the citizens of the city. Character sketches of interesting though not conventionally important people were a specialty. In doing this work, he of course came to realize more fully than most how ethnically diverse the population of Alabama actually is.

Second, is the history of his own family, Jewish immigrants from Romania who, like many new Americans — Germans, Greeks, Lebanese, Syrians, Italians — operated a small business in Mobile.

Hoffman knew from family lore and firsthand observation that Alabama was not, in spite of the obscenity of Jim Crow and the glories of the civil rights movement, a study in black and white.

In his first novel, Almost Family, Hoffman does indeed cover that ground, the relationship between a Jewish family and a black family during the tense years of demonstrations. This novel won the Lillian Smith Award for its contribution to race relations in America.

But in his second novel, Chicken Dreaming Corn, Hoffman told the family story of his Romanian grandfather and the other newcomers on Dauphin Street.

And now in “Come Landfall,” there is a further broadening and exploration.

This ambitious novel opens one year after 9/11, in 2002, and weaves the stories of three generations and three wars — the Second World War, the Vietnam War and the War in Iraq. Hoffman demonstrates through three convincing female characters the effect of those wars on women who must cope with varieties of loss.

In one thread, we learn the story of Christiane, now 83 years old, whose mind wanders sometimes to 1941, when her young Jewish husband went off to the Pacific and was lost in the vile POW camps of Bataan.

We also watch her granddaughter Angela fall in love with Frank Semmes, a patriotic young enlisted man, a “weather warrior” studying meteorology in the Air Force and eager to get into the action in Iraq.

Angela is slow, reluctant, to love Frank. Her own father returned from Vietnam in 1969, bitter and disillusioned with “patriotism” and religion. He received no parades, was called “baby killer” and became an anti-war activist, more likely to burn a flag than wave it.

In contrast, Frank’s father is a preacher, and Frank, gung-ho military, is also born-again, a product of Kentucky Faith College. Angela and Frank have some adjusting to do.

The third woman in this saga is Cam Nguyen. She and her father escaped Vietnam as boat people. He is now a shrimper, and they are devout Buddhists. She prays for guidance from the Bodhisattva Quan Am.

Cam Nguyen will need help: A bright but innocent girl, she is easily tricked and seduced by all-American local cop Joe Donahue, whose intentions, the reader soon sees, are impure.

Hoffman set this story in Biloxi rather than Mobile or Bayou la Batre for several good novelistic reasons. In Biloxi, he can show even more clearly the mixed state of cultural and religious affairs in the Deep South: the Buddhist shrine next to the shrine for the Virgin Mary, the Cotton Gin Casino down the road from Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis’ home, which itself is next door to the Nana’s nursing home, Coastal Arms.

And, throughout the novel, out in the Gulf, gathering force, is Katrina, which will, the reader knows, make landfall.

Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark” and the editor of “A State of Laughter: Comic Fiction from Alabama.”

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Essay on Roy Hoffman’s first three books, Almost Family, Back Home, and Chicken Dreaming Corn, by Stephen Goldfarb, “Alabama Heritage” magazine, December, 2010
“Portraits of a Changing South,”
by Stephen Goldfarb

Jewish immigration to the United States peaked in the first decade of the twentieth century, when hundreds of thousands of Jews entered the United States, pushed out of their traditional home in Eastern Europe by virulent antisemitism and drawn by religious freedom and economic opportunity. Among those Jews coming to the United States in that decade were the grandparents of Mobile writer Roy Hoffman. Unlike most of their coreligionists, who settled in the northern cities – Chicago, Boston, and especially New York – Hoffman’s grandparents, after they married in New York, found their way to Mobile, Alabama.

The odyssey of the Jews from Europe to the northern states has received generous treatment, most famously in Irving Howe’s “World of Our Fathers.” The literature for southern Jews is sparser. For this reason it is helpful to turn to novels like the two Hoffman has written for our knowledge of the immigrant experience of Jews in the American South.

Until well after world War II, foreign immigrants largely spurned the South. With neither large-scale industry nor unsettled land, the South attracted few foreigners in the nineteen century. Moreover, before air conditioning, many Europeans found the semitropical climate of the South uncongenial. Not an agricultural people, most Jews in Europe lived in either cities or towns, and were either trades people or shopkeepers.
Like many Jews of their generation, especially in the South, Hoffman’s grandparents opened first a general store, and then a furniture store, and raised a family of four children. In spite of hard times, especially the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Hoffmans prospered sufficiently for one of their sons to enter the legal profession.

Hoffman’s first novel, Almost Family, tells the story of the relationship between Vivian Gold, a Jewish housewife (and aspiring little-theatre actress), and her domestic, Nebraska Waters. For twenty-nine years, from 1946 until 1975, these two women saw each other five days a week, as Nebraska traveled to the Gold household to cook and otherwise help around the house, including care of the Gold children.

The best part of the book records the concurrent pregnancies of the two women, which not surprisingly brought them closer together, and ends with Nebraksa naming her daughter after her employer. But the closeness of the women is compromised by the employer/employee relationship, as well as the changing racial scene, as the civil rights movement comes to Madoc, Hoffman’s fictional name for Mobile. Hoffman effectively captures the ambivalent relationship of these women, which is hampered by their racial and economic differences. However, I find much of the dialogue unconvincing, perhaps a result of a male writer trying to record the often intimate conversations between two women.

Hoffman is on much firmer ground in his second novel, Chicken Dreaming Corn, which gets its title from a Romanian-Jewish expression that gives voice “to the yearnings of ordinary folks for something special or extraordinary.” This novel chonicles the nearly thirty years (1916-1945) of the Morris Kleinman family, as they make a home and raise their four children in an overwhelming, and occasionally hostile, gentile world.

Although there are clear parallels between the Kleinmans and the Hoffmans – both have four children, two of each sex – there are also differences. One of the Kleinman children succumbs to fever, leaving a gaping hole in the emotional life of her parents, and a relative commits suicide, a result of the reverses caused by the Great Depression. When not being too dramatic – one of the sons has a brief affair with his widowed aunt, who has borne a mixed-race child – this novel gives what is likely the best descriptions of what it was like to be Jewish in a medium-sized southern city between the two world wars. It helps us to see the trials and satisfactions of largely fitting into an alien world.

Between these two novels Hoffman published a collection of his journalistic pieces entitled Back Home: Journeys Through Mobile. After spending twenty-one years in New York City, Hoffman returned to Mobile in 1996 and took a position as writer-in-residence for the Mobile Register. Most of these pieces first appeared in the Register, and many look back to the Mobile in which Hoffman grew up, with its vibrant central business district, what was once called downtown, where his grandfather had his place of business.

In addition to writing essays on sports, weather, Mobile as a port, and race relations, Hoffman traveled to the rural parts of Mobile, Baldwin, and Choctaw counties to record the changes in agriculture there. He also interestingly chronicles the influx of yet another wave of immigrants, this time Vietnamese and Hispanics. He describes how these newcomers are changing what a Mobile friend calls LA, Lower Alabama, just as Hoffman’s grandparents did about a century earlier.

Taken together these three books by Roy Hoffman reflect in interesting ways on ethnicity and southern culture and are well worth the reader’s time.