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Two Cents Plain: My Brooklyn Boyhood Hardcover – Bargain Price, 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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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!
I had to laugh out loud when he took the spray whipping cream and as squirting in his mouth, this was from the soda counter not at home. Fess up now who has not done that at least once? Martin's family had a hard start in America after escaping from the Nazi's in WWII. His father went from job to job trying to set up a good life for the family.
At times I wonder why he talks in not so proper English but then I thought well he was first generation in the USA from Europe. So that would be how his family talked in those early years. It is very touching at times and also makes you remember the Holocaust and just how far reaching those scars go even to this day.
The illustration of his circumcision is a bit comical. I'm sure not for him at the time.
He tells the stories from his heart and when you look into the eyes of his parents in photo's you see way beyond just a snapshot.
I really enjoyed this most unusual book. Anyone who likes history and autobiographies will like this book.
You can read it in just a few hours and you will be richer for the experience.
The narration is sparce. You get a few ideas of perspective from these lines. They are more like captions. The real impact comes from the simple drawings.
These story board drawings define this medium. Considering the number of drawings needed to deliver this story, the artwork is detailed enough to portray enough realism to sustain more inspection than from a cursory glance.
There are some few photographs, old post cards and other representations. Oddly, intermixed with the drawings, they have much the same effect as they would with a more traditional presentation. The narrative does bring back the old grammatical constructions of the Yiddish speaking immigrants. I can hear them still in my mind's ear.