Today, more books where one of the characters is my hometown of Brooklyn. Two of them represent my longing from youth: A Stone for Danny Fisher was sex, while The Chosen, was the traditionalism I never had.
Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
In those days cheap apartments were almost impossible to find in Manhattan, so I had to move to Brooklyn.
“A monumental work of fiction.” The Christian Science Monitor
This book—weaving together a story of the Holocaust and a drama in Brooklyn just broke me in two when I read it: I was a girl from Brooklyn who waited each night for the Nazi’s to break down the door.
Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
The streets along Flatbush Avenue reminded me of home. My mother took me to Haiti Express, so I could see the place where she sent our money orders and cassettes from.
It was a small room packed with Haitians. People stood on line patiently waiting their turn. My mother slipped Tante Atie’s cassette into a padded envelope. As we waited on line, an old fan circled a spider’s web above our heads. A chubby lady greeted my mother politely when we got to the window. “This is Sophie,” my mother said through the holes in the thick glass. “She is the one who has given you so much business over the years.”
Magic illuminates the beauty and family life of Haiti in a way no news report has done. — The Boston Globe
I learned early on that almost everyone in Brooklyn had a foot in two worlds. I grew up on my great-grandmother’s story of being kidnapped in Romania, a country that lived in my mind as a cart and a dusty road where she’d been grabbed.
And of course, there are two books which most girls growing up in Brooklyn in the sixties remember reading early on—they represented the “good boys” and “bad boys” of Brooklyn:
The Chosen by Chaim Potok:
Danny’s block was heavily populated by the followers of his father, Russian Hasidic Jews in somber garb, whose habits and frames of reference were born on the soil of the land they had abandoned. They drank tea from samovars, sipping it slowly through cubes of sugar held between their teeth; they ate the foods of their homeland, talked loudly, occasionally in Russian, most often in a Russian Yiddish, and were fierce in their loyalty to Danny’s father.
Chaim Potok taught an irreligious girl what Judaism was supposed to be,and:
A Stone for Danny Fisher by Harold Robbins
There are many ways to get to Mount Zion Cemetery.
Harold Robbins taught an innocent what sex was in the days before the web.
Many more Brooklyn books can be found at this fantastic new site, A Literary Map of Brooklyn, where I had a dream come true, when a few lines from my book were posted on the Brooklyn Public Library site:
The July our family fell apart, my sister was five going on six, and I was turning ten, which in my mother’s eyes made me about fifty. Daddy didn’t offer much help, even before he left. He had problems of his own. My father wanted things he couldn’t have, and he hungered for my mother above all else. Perhaps growing up in the shadow of Coney Island, Brooklyn’s fantasy world, explained his weakness for Mama’s pinup façade, but I never understood how he missed the rest. Her sugary packaging must have kept him from noticing how much she resented any moment that didn’t completely belong to her.” The Murderer’s Daughters