Bayonne prepared me well for a larger life and a larger world. I knew who I was and where I was from. I was connected by innumerable little cords to people and places that gave me strength and identity. On The Block I was safe, secure, loved. I even had a number, 174, the address of our house, but the number wasn't a badge of anonymity. To the contrary, it marked my place, where I belonged.
As moving as Russell Baker's Growing Up and Calvin Trillin's Messages from My Father, My Fathers' Houses is the story of a town, a time, and a boy who would grow up to become a New York Times correspondent, television and radio personality, and bestselling author.
In this remarkable memoir, Steven V. Roberts tells the story of his grandparents, his parents, and his own life, vividly bringing a period, a place, and a remarkable family into focus. The period was the forties and fifties, when the children of immigrants were striving to become American in a booming postwar world. The place was one block in Bayonne, New Jersey, and the house that Roberts's grandfather, Harry Schanbam, built with his own hands, a warm and reassuring home, just across the Hudson River from "the city," where Roberts grew up surrounded by family and tales of the Old Country.
This personal journey starts in Russia, where the family business of writing and ideas began. A great-uncle became an editor of Pravda and two great-aunts were original members of the Bolshevik party. His other grandfather, Abraham Rogowsky, stole money to become a Zionist pioneer in Palestine and helped to build the second road in Tel Aviv before settling in America. Roberts returns his saga to Depression-era Bayonne, where his parents, living one block apart, penned love letters to each other before marrying in secret. His father, an author and publisher of children's books, and his uncle, a critic and short story writer, instilled in him a love for words and a determination to carry on the family legacy, a legacy he is now passing on to his own children and grandchildren.
Roberts, too, would leave home, for Harvard, where he met Cokie Boggs, the Catholic girl he would marry, and later, for the New York Times, where he would start his career -- across the river and worlds away from where he began. An emotional, compelling story of fathers and sons, My Fathers' Houses encapsulates the American experience of change and continuity, of breaking new ground using the tools and traditions of the past.