Mark Kurlansky, author of best-selling non-fiction niche histories about Cod, Oysters, and Salt, tackled this fiction work, that integrates his Lower East Side upbringing and love of pastry, early on in his career. My version was an audio rendition, narrated by a Broadway actor whose name I can't recall, who really provided color and atmosphere to the reading.
The story revolves around a middle-aged Jewish man and his family, who have lived in the neighborhood for several generations. It's hard to say exactly what the plot is; as I reflect on it, it seems mostly to deal with the man's guilt-ridden affair with a German baker's daughter. Also prevalent, plot-wise, are: a dilemma about selling the family business as the neighborhood grows and becomes more expensive; the travails of a Dominican (or is it Puerto Rican?) trying to get out of the drug business; a murderer stalking the local ATM machines; an uncle's search for the German baker's nazi past; and more.
I was impressed with Kurlansky's intimate knowledge about the neighborhood's ethnic cultures and characters, many of whom must have been far removed from his own American/European background. I lived in the neighborhood during the same period, and he brought forth here vivid details about people who I saw but interacted with only superficially. This seems to me to be the triumph of this book: its wonderland mix of ethnicity, whose unique apsects Kurlansky makes vivid. Stamaty's chaotic cover really nails this aspect of book, and the virtuoso narrator's uncanny & subtle characterizations in the audio version make it a listerner's delight.
Unfortunately, this may be the book's downfall too, as there are so many characters that I became confused... and with all the plot lines, the book loses any natural trajectory it might have had if Kurlansky had focused on fewer characters and plots. I might not have finished the book had I not gotten the audio version. Still, I enjoyed it, thought it illuminating and interesting, and certainly an accurate and heartfelt portrayal of a neighborhood that has, sadly, greatly changed since the 1980s.