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Three Brooklyn Memoirs

Dec 27, 2011 12:58 PM | 1 comment

The sub-genre of the Brooklyn memoir--often inexpensively self-published in paperback, with little editing--can be a valuable source of information on folk ways, street games and customs, while at the same time fleshing out the bare bones of the borough's history with narrative life. Titles on our shelves that dip into memories of childhood and youth include Michael Gordon's Brooklyn Beginnings. A Geriatrician's Odyssey; Gerald Chatanow and Bernard Schwartz's Another Time Another Place; Mike Getz's Brooklyn Boy: A Memoir; and Estelle Breines Brooklyn Roots. A tale of pickles and egg creams;  Frank J. Trezza's Brooklyn Steel-Blood Tenacity; Louis Postiglione's Did I Win or Did I Lose?; Ed German's Deep Down in Brooklyn;  Muriel Fox's A Girl from the Home; and a welcome recent addition in graphic form by Martin Lemelman, Two Cents Plain, this one published in hard cover by the mainstream press, Bloomsbury.

The three volumes pictured here are the latest to appear on my desk. Martin Levinson proceeds by setting the scene: so thoroughly is the scene set that one begins to wonder when the action will start. The Korean War, the many amenities of his Flatbush neighborhood, the role of women, the advent of TV and rock and roll, popular fads and games--these concerns, interspersed with brief personal anecdotes, form the bulk of this slim book. Levinson's Brooklyn was a "Club Med for kids," a sunny paradise in which the only guns available were water pistols and cap guns. If you ever need to know the difference between stoopball, punchball and boxball, this is your source.

As its title suggests, entertainer Jerry Castaldo's Brooklyn NY: a Grim Retrospective inhabits an altogether darker world. In 1970s Bensonhurst  a boy from a struggling family could find any number of ways to get into trouble, which is precisely what Castaldo did. His stories of violence, addiction and attempted suicide flow with a verve and immediacy that set this book apart from so many of its more pedestrian fellows. 

Nicole Scarcella's Made in Sicily Born in Brooklyn gives us a warmer, less threatening Bensonhurst, a neighborhood viewed from the heart of a Sicilian family living the American dream of the late 1940s and 1950s: a house on 72nd Street filled with family and the aroma of Italian cooking; a car with a garage, a garden planted with fig trees and vines, a wine cellar, an enclosed porch transformed into a teenage girl's bedroom--these are the elements of Scarcella's remembered urban idyll. There are deeply felt moments here; in spite of her verbal tics, mixed metaphors and cliches, Scarcella--a self-confessed novice writer--is a born storyteller. Her vignettes coalesce to form a vivid picture of a young woman breaking out of a life circumscribed by the values of her Sicilian parents. Scarcella moved to California as an adult, but like so many Brooklyn exiles, she seems to have left a piece of her heart here.



1/8/2012 11:57:23 PM #

Commendable to find the value and human interest in self-published memoirs!

Brenda from Flatbush