Booga­loo on 2nd Avenue: A Nov­el of Pas­try, Guilt, and Music

Mark Kurlan­sky
  • Review
By – August 10, 2012

Despite a col­or­ful jack­et illus­tra­tion by the well-known car­toon artist Mark Alan Sta­maty, and some love­ly black and white wash sketch­es by the author, an award-win­ning writer of non­fic­tion, this comedic, cel­e­bra­to­ry nov­el of life on the Loi­sai­da” — the Low­er East Side — when Lati­nos, Ital­ians, Jews and Sicil­ians coex­ist­ed, shar­ing food, street music, bohemi­an ways, and an anti-cap­i­tal­ist ethos, tries too hard to present the charm of the old neigh­bor­hood,” with its col­lec­tion of lik­able odd­balls and eccentrics. These include refugees, pet­ty crim­i­nals (vio­lence then was more the excep­tion than the rule), and drop-outs — the mass of human­i­ty that made up Alpha­bet City in the 80s, before the gen­tri­fy­ing land­lords moved in and the remain­ing Jews moved out, and Loi­sai­da, as a com­mu­ni­ty of insid­ers who all knew each oth­er, was far­tik, gas­ta­do, acaba­do, fini­to, se acabo, fin­ished.

At the cen­ter of this small world of car­ni­val- like sights, Spid­dish” sounds and eth­nic smells, are the Seltzers — Har­ry and Ruth (they own prop­er­ty but rarely col­lect rent); their son, Nathan, who runs the Meshuga­loo Copy Cen­ter and who can’t con­tain his sex­u­al appetite for a local shik­sa; Nathan’s wife, Sonia, who is writ­ing a play about Emma Gold­man; Nathan’s drug­gie broth­er, Mordy; and Uncle Nusan, with the tat­too on his arm. A kind of updat­ed Street Scene,” the book embraces a wide range of char­ac­ters, though the sen­ti­men­tal per­spec­tive is clear­ly Jew­ish. Ded­i­cat­ed to the old neigh­bor­hood with love,” and with clos­ing pages that fea­ture neigh­bor­hood recipes, Booga­loo, sub­ti­tled A Nov­el of Pas­try, Guilt, and Music,” has great heart but does not quite suc­ceed as fiction.

Joan Baum is a pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at The City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York and writes reg­u­lar­ly on schol­ar­ly and pop­u­lar top­ics for var­i­ous publications.

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