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A Walker in the City Paperback – March 19, 1969


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Product Details

  • Series: Harvest Book
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; Copyright 1951 edition (March 19, 1969)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156941767
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156941761
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #177,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In A Walker in the City, Alfred Kazin recalls his childhood in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn with such tactile specificity that readers, too, will smell "that good and deep odor of lox, of salami, of herrings and half-sour pickles" that emanated from the neighborhood pushcarts. His story is set in the working-class Jewish community of New York City in the decade preceding the Great Depression, but this classic memoir of the first-generation American experience resonates universally. Kazin depicts his younger self as a smart, unhappy kid who dreamed of escape from a confining local landscape. He found in books the road map to a freer territory. In Kazin's case, this was "the city" ("everything just out of Brownsville") whose glamorous institutions--the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden--spoke of an American past and an intellectual community that this son of eastern European immigrants was determined to make his own. (And he did, with his pioneering 1942 critical work, On Native Grounds, published when he was just 27.) Yet Kazin came to understand that the roots he had been so anxious to tear up were the source of his deepest identity. His loving portrait of his past acknowledges the crucial importance of belonging, even as it affirms the compelling necessity of escape. What could be more American? --Wendy Smith

Review

In A Walker in the City, Alfred Kazin recalls his childhood in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn with such tactile specificity that readers, too, will smell "that good and deep odor of lox, of salami, of herrings and half-sour pickles" that emanated from the neighborhood pushcarts. His story is set in the working-class Jewish community of New York City in the decade preceding the Great Depression, but this classic memoir of the first-generation American experience resonates universally. Kazin depicts his younger self as a smart, unhappy kid who dreamed of escape from a confining local landscape. He found in books the road map to a freer territory. In Kazin's case, this was "the city" ("everything just out of Brownsville") whose glamorous institutions--the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden--spoke of an American past and an intellectual community that this son of eastern European immigrants was determined to make his own. (And he did, with his pioneering 1942 critical work, On Native Grounds, published when he was just 27.) Yet Kazin came to understand that the roots he had been so anxious to tear up were the source of his deepest identity. His loving portrait of his past acknowledges the crucial importance of belonging, even as it affirms the compelling necessity of escape. What could be more American?  (Amazon.com Review - Wendy Smith)

Singular and beautiful…it is a small book and an immense achievement. (Brendan Gill, The New Yorker)

Customer Reviews

This is very special memoir.
MARILYN ROSENBLATT
The culture is the Yiddish enclave of the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, circa 1920s and the coming of the Great Depression.
C. Ebeling
If one reads for the love of language and for the imagination, this book will not disappoint.
J. W. Went

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Tyler Smith on May 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
One of the most respected literary critics this country has produced, Kazin made a significant contribution to the literature of the American immigrant with "Walker in the City." This demanding autobiography of his youth in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn vividly recreates the life of pre-Depression and Depression Jews for whom Manhattan, though just miles away, represented a faraway land filled with mystery and fear.
It is the world outside of Brownsville that looms over the book and the spirit of its narrator. Kazin successfully captures the yearning for new experiences that filled his heart as he grew up in the streets. It was that yearning that led him to the public library and ultimately across the bridges and out of the Brooklyn borough. It was also that yearning that made him wonder about a world that was not filled with Jews.
The mystery of the lands that lay beyond Brownsville's streets fills the book with a sense of tension. We can almost feel the young Kazin's heart burst as he begins to sense the vastness of the world. "Beyond! Beyond!" the narrator shouts, and prose turns into poetry in many passages of the book as he seeks to express the mixture of fear and exhiliration stirring within him.
One chapter, "The Kitchen," has been frequently anthologized, and rightfully so. It is a meditation on the room in which his mother spent much of her time working on the sewing she took in to make extra money. In the end, his mother's constant pounding on the foot treadle of the sewing machine comes to the author to represent the fire burning within her -- to achieve, to make a better life for her son, to survive in a strange new land where this exiled Jewish woman is once again a stranger.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By C. Ebeling on January 4, 2005
Format: Paperback
In the 1940s, Alfred Kazin (1915-1998) revisited his Brooklyn childhood in the short yet elegant memoir, A WALKER IN THE CITY. It is a stunning literary work, with the added bonus of getting a rare close-up view of a particular culture in a particular time and place that might otherwise be lost in oblivion.

The culture is the Yiddish enclave of the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, circa 1920s and the coming of the Great Depression. To the young boy, it was the entire planet, one that throbbed with the food, language and traditions of old world immigrants who want their children to preserve their ways but avail American education. The neighborhood's minorities include the Italian peddlers, the gentile school principal, and the African American population that is beginning to settle at the edges, on Livonia Avenue. It is a time of change: in the streets there are Zionist, Socialist, Communist, and union proclamations. Young women are bewildering their elders with their independence and new thoughts on marriage. As Kazin grows older, he begins to experience "the beyond" as well: the world brought in by films and literature, the wonders of "the city" (Manhattan), the mysteries of the human condition.

The telling of his story is golden. It's as if Kazin is a cinematographer, his prose growing more colorful as he slips from a walk in the present back into memory. He plays to all the senses with vivid imagery. His rhythmic prose is effortlessly lyrical. So precise is his description, that when I looked up a map of Brooklyn, the streets he named are all exactly where he laid them out in my mind.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By J. W. Went on January 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
Alfred Kazin's eminently readable memoir of his childhood and adolescent life growing up in a Jewish enclave in New York City during the early decades of the twentieth century, offer certain insight into the realities of the cityscape but most enjoyably his personality. The first lines - 'Every time I go back to Brownsville it is as if I had never been away' - are not mere platitudes, but rather establish the style of the book and the indelible connection between the author and the city. Kazin at times meanders with his storytelling and rememberances of the textures of the city, of Brownsville and it's inhabitants, but like any good writer who has developed a truly authentic voice, he redraws the reader into the narrative, into himself. And for Kazin - and vicariously for the reader - the city, his experiences of Brownsville, and the inhabitants are bound into a seamless whole. Kazin seems at his best when he parrots the coyly yearning adolescent male. I couldn't help but smile at one particular scene in which he described an older, married, and forlorn woman, who's mysticism piqued his youthful interest. 'How did you address your shameful secret love when she walked into a kitchen, and sat down with you, and smiled, smiled nervously, never fitting herself to the great design?' the sly youth pondered, for in his imagination, which Leo Tolstoy too inhabited, she was his Anna. This scene was one of several anecdotes that I found myself smiling at as I read, enjoying the author's wit, prose, and storytelling ability.

If one reads for the love of language and for the imagination, this book will not disappoint.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Michelita on March 29, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am taking a course for my master degree in teaching English. In this class my professor is approaching the instruction in a wonderful way, the theory of pedagogy is Multiple Voice Argument, (MVA). It is a way of teaching students to pull from many sources for writing different types of papers, not just an argumentative essay. The professor assigned this book as an example of a genre that students could uses to pull out their own ideas and experiences. Also, the professor uses the book as an example of good material to use in our own classrooms.
Anyway, this book "A Walk in the city" gives you a personal experience, and some how allows the reader to create their own experience through the eyes and words of another.
It was publish in 1946 and it is still a wonderful read!
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