Reviewer: Truong Buu Lam: Dr. Lam earned his Doctorate in History from the Université Catholique de Louvain, in Belgium many years ago. He has since taught history of Southeast Asia at several Colleges and Universities in Vietnam and the USA. He has authored a few works on Vietnamese history. He is now retired and the last affiliation was the University of Hawaii.
Author: Bea Gold
Publisher: Outskirts Press, Inc.
The sub-title does not accurately convey the content of the book which has much more to offer to the readers. It is in fact, as the subtitle claims it, composed of stories from a childhood in Old New York. Not only stories, but 36 of them, 36 one page stories, accompanied each by exquisite illustrations in color on the opposite pages of the text.
The dedication " To my grandchildren, one and all" indicates that the book is written and illustrated for children. Maybe that was the original intention of the author, but the end result does not always reflect that original intention. For example, I would not narrate three of the stories written in this book to children, of whatever age! First, the one about the pogrom which scared me at first for I could not believe that such an event could have taken place in New York!! Fortunately, it occurred in Poland. The account spared no details of a senseless and meaningless killing, demonstrating the most hideous aspect of an unacceptable racism:
When we looked up we saw the Cossacks on their horses, yelling and holding big sticks that were on fire. We were so afraid they were going to put our store on fire. Just then we saw an old man with long beard, walking down the road, ...carrying a prayer book under his arm. The Cossack near our window yelled at him and called "dirty old Jew"...The Cossack reached out with his torch and put the man's beard and his clothes on fire...
We couldn't do anything to help ...we could only watch the man die. (p. 23)
May I ask why include this story in a book dedicated to children?
The story entitled "The First Stop" attracts my attention because it evokes the ancient tenements of Brighton Beach, the Manhattan BMT metro line of which the elevated station of Coney Island constituted the first stop. The illustration for that story sweetly reminds me of the subway car of yesteryear, with its randomly arranged benches. However, I would not mention the end of that story not because it is related to some sexual scene , but simply because I find that the incident does not add any worth to the anecdote; moreover, it suggests a lack of good taste!
Right across the aisle from us was a man wearing a long black overcoat. He looked us right in the eyes and opened his overcoat to show us a huge, erect penis. This happened more than once, men exposing themselves to us..." (p. 77).
I am glad to announce that the illustration which accompanies that story does not unveil all the details mentioned in the text!
I would refrain myself from telling the
following story if my book intends to reach an audience of children.
A baby bled to death because he was playing with lima beans and pushed one up his nose until he started bleeding. Nobody could stop the bleeding.
to the data sheet, this book belongs to the genre Biography/
Autobiography. So I suppose that the
stories offered here are personal memoirs of the author and it so
happened that the author is also an artist so that text and
illustration spring from the same source. Almost all the accounts
pertain to the life of a girl who spent her childhood in various
neighborhoods of Old New York City, Manhattan and the rest.
We learn that her parents are first generation immigrants with still vivid memories of Ellis Island. Her family is not strictly religious so that only the kitchen in their many dwellings is kosher. The recipes of many Jewish dishes are offered, including the famous Jewish Mother "Chicken Soup." The text is plain, with many Jewish terms (Yiddish) carefully translated, although sometime we seem to need more than a literal translation. For example, what does the following sentence can mean: "A year to them the way they see you and a year to me the way I see you" when it constitutes the mother's response to the daughter 's statement that she was so ugly?
I wanted to read this book for I was attracted to its subtitle: Stories From a Childhood in Old New York. I was excited all the more when I read that the book is illustrated, waiting to admire old pictures of the Big Apple. Little did I expect to leaf through all the hand painted illustrations, some of which remind me of the New York of not so long ago which, at the same time, appears so distant already in our mind.