Customer Reviews: Through the Children's Gate: A Home in New York
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on February 1, 2007
I should preface this review with some background: I am a pediatrician, working and living in New York, and this book first caught my eye just from the title. When I read the jacket liner and discovered it was, at least in part, about raising children in New York, I felt I had to give it a whirl. I was not too familiar with Gopnik's essays in The New Yorker, though his name was familiar to me and his writing had been recommended to me many times. It was with this background sense of his work that I began to read.

And read, I did. From the first moment I picked up this book I was engulfed and enthralled. This book is a collection of essays written from the author's perspective. He had lived in Paris for 5 years on assignment for The New Yorker Magazine, and returned to New York City in 2000 primarily out of homesickness and out of a desire to raise his family there. Gopnik knows New York, but a lot had changed since the last time he lived here, and this collection of essays is really about his rediscovery of the city, through his own eyes as well as those of others: his children, most notably, but also his wife and some of his close friends. His essays, which feel at times more like stories, are of course tempered by and work through the enormity of 9/11. And the New York he describes is as much the New York of and around 9/11 as it is the New York that it always has been and yet also a new city formed by nothing other than the march of progress.

His subject matter is of two parts, both close to my own heart--New York city and children. He does them both such amazing justice in this book.

Gopnik's prose is a joy to behold, both familiar and formal, intricately planned yet at times stream-of-consciousness in style. His skill as a writer is as much in this, his technical mastery of the genre, as it is in his easy ability to depict emotions ranging from humor to pathos succintly yet poignantly. His skills suit his subjects perfectly. The city crackles to life underneath his pen, as he captures in amazing clarity what it is like to sit awake and look out at the windows around the city at 3 AM, or what it felt like to watch the city burn 5 1/2 years ago, or what central park means to the city and those in it. He is the quintessential New Yorker, and yet, perhaps because he left the city, he is able now to see it so much more clearly without taking it for granted as the rest of us do.

But the real heart of this book lies in his portrayal of his children. Through his writing we see his love for Olivia and Luke leap off of the page and, without being overly trite, right into our hearts. The way he describes himself already preparing for when they leave home...the way he opines on what the earth must feel like when zen masters leave it--his children are his life, and it shows brilliantly. As someone without children of my own, but who works with them on a daily basis, I can attest to the accuracy with which Gopnik captures their idiosyncracies while still making painfully clear how alike they truly are. By the end of this book, the reader feels he or she knows Gopnik, his family, his children, and the reader feels for him. Or at least I did.

This is, once again, a wonderful read. Light, funny, and yet undeniably heavy and full of rich sadness and depth, and at times all at once. Gopnik has outdone himself. As we step through the Children's Gate, we enter his world, and when the book ends we just don't want to leave.
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on November 21, 2006
Readers of The New Yorker who relish each issue that contains an Adam Gopnik essay will be delighted that 20 of them have been collected in this rich offering of his work. Those unacquainted with Gopnik's graceful and allusive prose are likely to become instant fans.

Taking its title from the name of the Central Park entrance at Seventy-sixth Street and Fifth Avenue, the collection is unified by Gopnik's captivating insights into the lives of his precocious children, Luke and Olivia, as they adapt to life in their new home. That focus is apt, for, he observes, about the Upper West Side world into which they settle, comfortably but not entirely without unease, "a constant obsessive-compulsive anxiety about children --- their health, their future, the holes in their socks, and the fraying of their psyches --- is taken entirely for granted here."

In September 2000 Gopnik and his family returned to New York, after five years in Paris that provided the material for his acclaimed book PARIS TO THE MOON. In that time, he notes, "The map of the city we carried just five years ago hardly corresponds to the city we know today, while the New Yorks we knew before that are buried completely." That first autumn is portrayed as an idyllic time, its innocence made more poignant when viewed backwards through the lens of 9/11.

Two of the pieces, "The City and the Pillars" and "Urban Renewal," deal explicitly with the events of that day and its aftermath, but the fear and anxiety it engendered shadow much of Gopnik's narrative. In a characteristically arresting metaphor that captures the profound and yet curious effect the terrorist attacks had on the city, he notes, "It's as though the sinking of the Titanic had taken place right beside a subway station and been watched by a frightened or curious crowd who saw something unbelievable, the great ship listing and rising up and breaking in two and the people falling from the funnel, and then walked home from the disaster and showed their families that their hands were still cold from touching the iceberg." Yet despite the disaster, Gopnik writes, New Yorkers "learned to live on one foot, hopping along spiritually in more or less normal times." Again, he returns to his theme of children and families: "The real question that pressed itself upon us as parents was how to let our children live in joy in a time of fear, how to give light enough to live in when what we saw were so many shadows."

The New York life Gopnik sketches in these essays is anything but unremittingly anxious or bleak. There are numerous moments of sly humor that leaven the more serious essays. Readers will chuckle as Gopnik, at best a casually observant Jew, grapples with the task of crafting a presentation about the Jewish holiday of Purim. His description of the unintended consequences of a "no-screen" weekend, as he and another father try to wean their sons from computers and video games, is hilarious. And few readers will be able to stifle the urge to "LOL" as fortysomething Gopnik is initiated by his son into the world of instant messaging.

Gopnik also proves himself an erudite companion as he discourses on such subjects as the decline of the New York department store, the revival of Times Square and the story behind the Bill Evans Trio jazz classic, "Sunday at the Village Vanguard." While the collection is decidedly Manhattan-centric, he does leave the island briefly to introduce readers to the bizarre phenomenon of the wild parrots of Flatbush.

Not every essay in the book hits the mark. "The Cooking Game," a description of a contest in which several prominent chefs prepare a meal with ingredients selected by Gopnik, suffers from an uncharacteristically narrow focus. "Death of a Fish" treads perilously close to the line of undue sentimentality. Yet these minor stumbles are more than offset by "Last of the Metrozoids," the understated and moving account of the death of Kirk Varnedoe, Gopnik's close friend and a noted art historian, as he delivers his final lectures and coaches, painstakingly and lovingly, Luke and his eight-year-old teammates on the Giant Metrozoids football team.

Like all accomplished essayists, Adam Gopnik excels in moving seamlessly from the particular to the universal and back again. New York is too multifaceted a place to be captured in any single work, but THROUGH THE CHILDREN'S GATE is a generous and warmhearted place to start.

--- Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg
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on November 3, 2006
Reading the preceding review reminds me that our society is full of disturbed people, the kind who wait around for books they expect not to like (get a life, pal). Perhaps these are also the folks preying upon our children; I don't know haven't checked the local police registry. As a father of two, I was really moved by Adam Gopnik stories of raising his kids in New York, trying to fullfill the dream that brings so many people to that amazing city while still pulling off the commonplace miracle of child-rearing. What struck me most--I was born in the rural midwest but married a NYC gal and lived there for two years before heading for its suburbs to raise my brood--what struck me most is how much raising kids in New York is just like raising them anywhere else, oddly enough. There are some strange peripheral realities, toddlers with cellphones, playing ball in the most famous park in the world, but the emotions are universal and this is what Gopnik captures with priceless wit and warmth and eloquence. Troubled indeed is the heart that isn't moved by the spectacle he evokes. The most purely pleasurable book I've read this year. As an ordained minister, I'm recommending it to my congregation. Family values with great entertainment value to boot.
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on November 17, 2006
I'm surprised by the negative comments Gopnik's writing elicits from several reviewers in this Amazon context. I think Adam Gopnik is simply one of the finest writers we have at present. Sometimes his writing evokes Joan Didion, particularly when he writes of New York jazz or the ways in which important cities like NYC change over time. I simply love Through the Children's Gate, because of this writer's optimism in a less than optimistic moment. Gopnik's perspective helps me to guard against "bitterosity," the dread disease that killed Oliva's imaginary friend's new wife, Kweeda, and seems to have afflicted some amazon reviewers of Gopnik's work.
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on November 27, 2012
New York, New York, it's a wonderful town. The Bronx is up and the People are down. Well, at least some of them. Not Gopnick and family, however. There are many books about the BIG APPLE, the capitol of the world to some, but to others the seat of cosmic anxiety. (Evelyn Waugh once said that there is something in the air there that the natives think of as energy, but which an Englishman instantly recognizes as neurosis.) Gopnick sees something else: urban life through the eyes of a working dad, art historian, journalist, author whose greatest joy, unlike many of his contemporaries, is not in impressing us with how many women he's shagged on the last book-signing tour, but in explaining in minutest detail the simple joys and complex anxieties of being a New York father, home at 3:15 when your boy returns from school. Gopnick gave up an excellent life writing about Paris for the New Yorker to return to New York and upper middle-class life. In his book, being a dad, or learning how to be, somehow becomes a larger metaphor for the city itself. Gopnick may or may not be the greatest writer ever to write about family life, but he is certainly one of the greatest dads ever to write lovingly about his remarkable children. Holden Caulfield once said that when you finish a really great book you want to call up and have a chat with the author. In the case of this book, you will want to call up Gopnick to find out what's happening with his daughter. At last count, Olivia, has done seven years penance at Dalton. She will either end up being a genius like her father, or incapacitated for adult life. Such is what happens when there is an excess of Jewish Daddy Love. Stay tuned!
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on January 19, 2008
I received this book as a Christmas present, and took it with me on holiday to Japan ... because I wished that I were going to New York but was not.

I expected a book of stories about life in New York. While I got this in some ways I got it in such a way as to be at times rendered speechless. This book contains laugh out loud elements (stories of his children) and parts which brought me to tears (the ending of the Giant Metrozoids). It has also inspired me to do a whole lot more reading, all the books which Gopnik refers to are now on my reading list.

I am not a New Yorker, but, after a week there in 2006 now miss this city so desperately from my home in Australia, that I am amazed. Gopnik captured my feelings in this book. The moments of clarity that I had to share with the people I was travelling with, and will become pearls of wisdom for staff meetings when I am required to talk.

Would I recommend this book? Of this I am unsure. It is a highly observationalist book, looking at the society in which the author lives and grasping for the truth that is found within. It is also in the nature of critical literacy, so some deep thinking is required on the part of the reader. I usually read a book every day or two when travelling (particularly when in a country where English is not found readily) my addiction is to the pages, not the 'screens or cards'. But this book took me nearly two weeks, and I feel a need now to re-read it. To high light and mark the pearls I have discovered in the manner of a university text so that I can give these the true depth of consideration they deserve.

All in all though, this was a book I can see myself reading again and again one which spoke to my soul so truly that I can hear the sirens of NYC echoing down the streets, smell the hotdog venders and feel the wind in my face. This book will tide me over until I get to go back again.
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on December 30, 2011
Gopnik and his wife decide to move with their family from Paris back home to New York City. The chapters of the book consist of little stories about Gopnik's kids, about life in New York City after living in Paris, about New York after 9-11.

The subject of the chapters is not important. Gopnik has a way of writing so well, so thoughtfully, that the real subject is clearly living itself.

Trying to battle what Gopnik calls "the screens," the video and computer and game screens that have taken over the lives of Gopnik's children and all American children, was the chapter that hit closest to my heart.
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on October 2, 2013
He brings the unique things he chooses to write about close enough to touch. He finds the unusual and gives it to us as a lovely, gently-coaxed-into-full-picture verbal display. I thank him each time I enter into his writing.

This one is a particularly sweet revelation.
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on May 1, 2015
A delightful book that has also much food for thought. His daughter Olivia's pal Charlie Ravioli will be remembered for some time; his tribute to his friend Kirk Varnedoe is memorable in a different way.
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on June 6, 2016
Adam Gopnik is an incredibly witty and insightful author. Though he came off as somewhat pretentious as I began Through the Children's Gate, I came to love him for it as I continued reading. As a parent, his thoughts and perspectives on parenting in the modern Urbania were moving and human. The winding memoir made me feel understood while allowing me to understand. Highly recommended as a light summer read or warming fall book.
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