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Two Cents Plain: My Brooklyn Boyhood Hardcover – August 31, 2010
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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, Blogcritics.org
“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 Resources.com, Top 100 Comics of 2010
Top customer reviews
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It was powerful, interesting and the illustrations really made the experience different for me. I recommend this book!
I bought this book for my friend who is teaching a class on the graphic novel. He also liked it.
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. But as the neighborhood changes, his parents are among the few holdouts until a crucial incident shakes them to the core. Again, this book doesn't take long to read (although I did linger on many of the pages, taking in both words and drawings) but it is likely to leave a lasting impression.
This isn't a story of coming to America and striking it rich. Instead, this is a realistic look at a family who has ups and downs and eke out a living as best they can. Their resilience and dignity while running Teddy's Candy Store was an inspiration to me, even though Lemelman portrays a gritty world, even including the cockroaches and rats that went after the food and ice cream in the store. Many of the sections start with Yiddish sayings, an extra layer that added much to this book. Highly recommended!
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.