The Christmas Kid (and other Brooklyn Stories) by Pete Hamill (2012)

 

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This is a collection of 36 fictional stories about the people and culture of mid 20th century Brooklyn, New York. I think all the stories were previously published in other places (magazines or journals) at various times, but this book brings them together for the first time. The cover is somewhat misleading as these are not Christmas stories–they are stories of a tough life during tough times in a borough of immigrants trying to make their way in a new world. But they are also stories of love and friendship and family. The first story, (“The Christmas Kid”), the story of Lev, a Jewish boy who has lost both parents in the Holocaust and comes to live–without papers–with a Brooklyn relative, is by far my favorite and the longest.  I wish that one had been twice as long because I didn’t want to let go of Lev.  It’s the sign of a good writer when I want to stay with the characters longer, and Hamill pulled me into each of their stories so much that I had a hard time starting a new one so quickly (most are only 4-5 pages).  36 of them made me feel like my head was spinning, so I didn’t make it all the way through.  Still, I felt transported to Brooklyn through these characters and their lives.  While this is fiction, not memoir, the people and events are very much based on Hamill’s growing up years in Brooklyn. If you haven’t read anything by Pete Hamill, I also highly recommend my two favorites, Snow in August and A Drinking Life (a memoir).

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