Author: Pete Hamill
Hamill’s collection of stories set in 1930-1950 Brooklyn speak to nostalgia, loss and yearning. The neighborhood borough characters live in the world of neighborhood, the local bars, the grocery stores, the young stick ball gangs of kids, the immigrants, the poor, the strange, the unique. They exist before TV, cell phones, or digital technology and they are a tight community, keeping their secrets and lives ringing around each other, taking care of each other, tight knit. Many of them speak of mistakes made, lives changing unhappily as Brooklyn changes, of the Mob boys that have their own code of ethics for family and neighborhood.
The Christmas Kid, however, evokes hope as a young boy, Lev, the only survivor of his family from the Holocaust death camps, comes from Hitler’s Poland to live with his only living relative, his Brooklyn uncle, the booky who has has his own fame and rough habits. As the neighborhood boys take him under his protection, so does his uncle and his friend, the local police chief. Lev slowly learns English, and then, even more slowly, how to play. And when Lev’s Uncle Barney Augstein dies suddenly, the State takes Lev off to an orphanage. The neighborhood steps in – and Lev is rescued in a story that breaks the heart.
The other stories speak of the code of family also:
a serviceman comes home when his young brother dies from a heroin overdoes (heroin has never been known in the neighborhood before). Devlin, the brother, takes care of the situation when he finds the drug dealer. As the cops turn their head, smile even, Devlin returns back to the base with his neighbors love and blessings.
An older couple sit and talk of their neighborhood memories. Then they choose to die peacefully together with their memories as they reach for the pills.
This collection, while somber, reveals Hamill’s skill in recreating the Brooklyn he grew up in, with baseball, the neighborhood bar, the characters that come home to their own small culture held within the microcosm of the neighborhood after the Depression. There is a loyalty, a safety within the confines of their lives, their loyalty to each other, the hard times that they share and share alike. Many times stories of the immigrants who lived and died in Brooklyn show a seemingly simpler and yet harder, more complex era, where all they have is each other, and that is enough. Hamill’s The Christmas Kid takes us home – to his beloved Brooklyn.
Well written, compelling and bringing back a time when small stores were communities, small people became large, with Brooklyn as the background for a world that held compassion and caring within its streets and characters.
The Christmas Kid: And Other Brooklyn Stories makes a great gift for the holiday season. You can pick it up at Amazon.com or bookstores everywhere.
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A” – Ava
We received a copy of this title for our book review. All opinions are our own.