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Two Cents Plain: My Brooklyn Boyhood Hardcover – August 31, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition (1 in number line) edition (August 31, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608190048
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608190041
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,724,884 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lemelman's memoir of his childhood in 1950s Brooklyn gets off to a promising start, with his parents recounting their travails as Jews trying to survive in Nazi-occupied Poland (a story told fully in his earlier Mendel's Daughter). After meeting in a German displaced persons camp, the pair soon headed to America, where they promptly had two sons. And here the trouble begins. Once Lemelman becomes a character in his own childhood, potentially engrossing stories about growing up in a thriving Jewish neighborhood peter out or meander due to poor pacing and a lack of focus. The ostensible anchor is his father Tovia's shop, Teddy's Candy Store, but even the tales of Tovia's eccentric customers seem little more than impressions. The same can be said about Lemelman's pencils, which sometimes court vivid life only to give way to muddy, poorly conceived blobs. Lemelman's episodic remembrances are all mood, all era, and little story; the bittersweet nostalgia connects, but even the most skilled storyteller shouldn't take readers' indulgence for granted. (Sept.) (c)
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“Memory comes alive in this compelling amalgam of drawing, narrative and archival photography ...Though there's an innocence to [Lemelman's] tales...this was not an idyllic childhood, nor is it rendered sentimentally... The family chronicle unfolds against the backdrop of a tumultuous era... A book that is both a celebration and an affirmation of life.” —Kirkus Reviews, Best Memoirs of 2010
"Like a two-cent seltzer water, this graphic memoir is an unassuming treat, whether sipped a story at a time, or quaffed in one satisfying sitting" —A.V. Club
"This is literary territory familiar to fans of Mordecai Richler and Saul Bellow; what Lemelman brings to it is artistry featuring a fine eye for detail, penmanship nuanced but never watery, and a stylistic fearlessness that can stuff pop art tropes, photography, and naturalism onto the same page.” —Boston Globe
Two Cents Plain takes the cutting edge form of a graphic novel, but it’s a classic coming of age story set in Brooklyn in the 1950s and ’60s. Lemelman’s detailed pencil drawings, sprinkled with Yiddish sayings and dialogue capturing the colorful, broken English of his immigrant parents, tell the story of his hard-working parents fleeing the Holocaust after WWII and setting up shop in Teddy’s Candy Store, selling ice cream, cigarettes, sodas, egg creams, newspapers, and toys.”—San Francisco Book Review
"[A] rich graphic memoir... Through Lemelman's strong narrative voice and spare images, Two Cents Plain is a haunting and unforgettable black and white encounter with the past." —Jewish Book World
"Lemelman captures the challenges, tastes, and smells of a particularly nostalgic time and place for many immigrants through is compelling illustrations. Two Cents Plain offers a firsthand account of the first generation American's experience as the structure of the 1950s evolved into the freeform 1960s."
—Miami New Times
“[A] rich sketch- and scrap-book of sorts – a compelling compendium of expressively-rendered anecdotes and black-and-white drawings, documents, photos, and artifacts... The storyline of Two Cents Plain, all wit and woe, is variously made up of piecemeal fragments and extended sweeps. As much as we come to know friends and local denizens – the fish man, the fruit man, the deli man – increasing strains of changing times, demographics, and violence...are vividly portrayed, too.”
Gordon Hauptfleisch,
“Amazing…Author Martin Lemelman mixes nostalgia and realism, bringing in period touches such as drawings of vintage toys and candy but never shying away from the grittier details such as his parents' anger, their poverty and the rats that swarmed through their apartment.” Comic Book, Top 100 Comics of 2010

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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I thank Goodreads and Bloomsbury for sending me such a lovely, hardback copy of it.
Martin Lemelman tells the story of his childhood in Brooklyn in the form of a truly creative graphic novel.
In this graphic memoir, author Martin Lemelman tells the story of his childhood in Brooklyn.
G. Dawson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Ernest Friedman-Hill VINE VOICE on April 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is an immersive visit to the author's Brooklyn childhood, depicted over a backdrop of history. From his parents' exodus from post-war Poland to his family's exodus from a beloved but forever changed Brooklyn, Martin Lemmelman takes us into a fascinating past from a child's point of view. The omnipresent nostalgia of this work is tempered with brutal honesty. For every fond reminisce there is the depiction of a painful memory to balance it. But the warm and affectionate artwork paints a picture of a fleeting, bygone era, in which the author clearly feels lucky, on balance, to have played a part, despite the pain and trauma he experienced.

Apart from feelings, there is invaluable information about the Yiddish culture prevalent in the author's boyhood home town. If you read Hebrew, you'll appreciate the signage and newspapers depicted in backgrounds.

I loved this book, and suspect I'll read it again before long. It's a good yarn and a fascinating read. Recommended for adults and teens with any interest in Jewish or American history.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kcorn TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Think you've read just about every Jewish memoir out there? Maybe you have....but this one goes beyond printed words on a page, with personal illustrations, as well as some copies of actual photos, that make the book rich and multi-faceted. It is a quick read, mainly because the words are relatively few. But that doesn't make this work any less resonant. The author starts with family history and, as might be expected, this includes Holocaust history, deep and searingly painful. Again, perhaps nothing new, but seeing the faces of family members as they recount their memories, tore at my heart. Everything described became far more immediate, more real. I'd go so far as to consider this a collector's item and believe it will come to be even more appreciated in years to come. It is unique and special.

The 1950s covers much of the period in this book and the life lived by Martin and his brother and parents is spartan. His parents run a candy store (which eventually becomes a combination of ice cream parlor and hardware store, filled to the brim with all sorts of objects). Meanwhile, the family lives in the back of the store in a space crammed with boxes of merchandise. They struggle to make a living but do get by, with one son sleeping by a noisy refrigerator and the other sharing space in his parents' bedroom. Martin's mother and father have a turbulent relationship but they stick together and when their love is tested they come through for each other.

One of the most poignant parts of this book was seeing how the neighborhood changed from a vibrant Jewish area to one which eventually became a historic relic. As a child, Lemelman's world was bordered by Kosher markets, carts full of fruit seller, noisy streets lined by vendors selling all sorts of wares.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By D. Danziger on September 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Two Cents Plain, My Brooklyn Boyhood is an unforgettable book and deserves a place on the bookshelf alongside some of the great Jewish coming of age/awakening novels such as Henry Roth's Call It Sleep, Philip Roth's Good-bye Columbus and Bernard Malamud's The Assistant. For anyone interested in what it was like to grow up Jewish in America in the 50s and 60s, this book is a must. Also a must read for history buffs, as well as for readers who are interested in Holocaust survivors and what became of them when they settled in the USA. Mr. Melman's drawings are as beautiful and detailed and memorable as his writing. I know it's a cliche, but I couldn't put this book down. Weeks after reading this memoir, many of its images and lines replay in my mind. Not only a great book, but a heck of a Hanukkah present for someone you love. Buy it. Share it. You'll be glad you did.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Poogy on March 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was deeply moved by Two Cents Plain, which I read in one day. This is a graphic memoir recounting the author's boyhood in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 60s, with intimate portraits of his immigrant parents who survived the Second World War in Eastern Europe and emigrated due to lingering antisemitism. They run a shop, and the book describes and visually portrays in great detail the items they sold, the customers, the neighborhood, their living conditions, and the changes in the neighborhood over time, as well as the family members' relationship s with one another. In short, it's a remarkable account of first generation Jewish life in 1950s Brooklyn, told as a coming of age story. There's no real plot to speak of, beyond what I've just said. The interest is in the loving portrayal of a lifestyle, the history of a neighborhood now gone, and the personalities of the individuals involved.

I'm sure my reaction was based in large part on the overlap between my boyhood and the author's, although in many ways they weren't very similar. I'm several years younger than the author, my parents were both born in the U.S. and were professionals, not shopkeepers, and we didn't live surrounded by immigrants. Nevertheless, I was amazed at the memories this book brought back of life in the 50s and 60s in New York. The author not only illustrates the book beautifully--he's an exceptional artist--but includes many photographs of miscellaneous items from those days, such as little toys or candies his parents sold in their shop, that epitomized childhood for me, but which I hadn't seen or thought about for decades. My own parents were well educated and spoke fine English, but occasionally used yiddish expressions they'd picked up from their immigrant parents. Such expressions are used throughout Two Cents Plain, and I'm sure my mother would get a kick out of seeing that they haven't disappeared completely, unlike the neighborhood the author grew up in.
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