Kazin’s memorable description of his life as a young man as he makes the journey from Brooklyn to “americanca”-the larger world that begins at the other end of the subway in Manhattan. A classic portrayal of the Jewish immigrant culture of the 1930s. Drawings by Marvin Bileck.
In A Walker in the City, Alfred Kazin recalls his childhood in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn with such tactile specificity that readers, too, will smell "that good and deep odor of lox, of salami, of herrings and half-sour pickles" that emanated from the neighborhood pushcarts. His story is set in the working-class Jewish community of New York City in the decade preceding the Great Depression, but this classic memoir of the first-generation American experience resonates universally. Kazin depicts his younger self as a smart, unhappy kid who dreamed of escape from a confining local landscape. He found in books the road map to a freer territory. In Kazin's case, this was "the city" ("everything just out of Brownsville") whose glamorous institutions--the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden--spoke of an American past and an intellectual community that this son of eastern European immigrants was determined to make his own. (And he did, with his pioneering 1942 critical work, On Native Grounds, published when he was just 27.) Yet Kazin came to understand that the roots he had been so anxious to tear up were the source of his deepest identity. His loving portrait of his past acknowledges the crucial importance of belonging, even as it affirms the compelling necessity of escape. What could be more American? --Wendy Smith