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Far From Flatbush

Suzi From the Block: The Sequel

 

Since Bobby in Naziland: A Tale of Flatbush was published, I've reconnected with many people from my past, some of whom I hadn't seen in 50 years. Susan Barrett, who's appeared on such TV shows as 30 Rock, Shades of Blue, and Law & Order, is one of those people. She was the only actor captured live on video at "Bobby on Beaver Street," the December 14 New York launch event for Bobby in Naziland. You can see that performance here.

 

In the above video, shot in my apartment, Susan reprises her Beaver Street performance and tells the story of our first, serendipitous meeting. She then reads from the opening chapter of Bobby in Naziland, "The Goyim and the Jews," in which her brother is a character.

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Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

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The Part About Miami

According to The New York Times, Books & Books, in Coral Gables, Florida, is "the indie bookseller who put literary Miami on the map." Over the decades, the store, which opened in 1982, has hosted readings by such luminaries as Isaac Bashevis Singer, James Baldwin, Hunter S. Thompson, and Toni Morrison.

 

At 7 P.M. Saturday, February 1, it will be my great pleasure to appear at Books & Books. I'll be reading from my new memoir, Bobby in Naziland: A Tale of Flatbush, which is set in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 60s—a place where World War II and the ghost of the Dodgers hovered like a mass hallucination.

 

The above video, The Part About Miami, is a preview of one of the three (or, time permitting, four) sections of Bobby in Naziland that I'll be reading.

 

I hope you can join me in Coral Gables for my last U.S. event before moving on to European horizons in the coming months.

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Click here for six more videos of actors reading from Bobby in Naziland.

 

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my still-embryonic Instagram.

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Books & Videobooks

With my February 1 reading at Books & Books, the venerable literary mecca in Coral Gables, Florida, imminent, I've assembled what amounts to a videobook of excerpts from Bobby in Naziland: A Tale of Flatbush. I hope the uninitiated will avail themselves of this opportunity to get acquainted with the book.

 

Below you'll find six videos of the actors (and myself) who read from Bobby in Naziland at the December New York launch event, "Bobby on Beaver Street," at the Killarney Rose. They are, in order of appearance, Susan Barrett, Robert Rosen, Deametrice Eyster, Byron Nilsson, Laralu Smith, and Joe Gioco.

 

Barrett was recorded live at the Killarney Rose. The other videos are "studio" takes of the excerpts we read at the event.

 

I hope you like what you hear and that you can come to Books & Books on February 1, at 7 P.M., to hear me read live and in person. This is my last scheduled event in the U.S. before moving on to European horizons in the late winter or early spring.

 

Suzi From the Block: From Chapter 1, "The Goyim and the Jews"

Bobby From the Block: From Chapter 3, "Heil Irwin!"

Deametrice From the Hood: From Chapter 11, "Fragments of My Father"

Byron From the Farm: From Chapter 13, "Cruel Affections"

Laralu From the Living Room: From Chapter 14, "In America..."

Joe From the TV: From Chapter 15, "The Flatbush Diet"

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Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

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Joe From the TV

Joe Gioco, whom you've seen on TV in such shows as Gotham, Escape at Dannemora, and Mr. Robot, is one of the many actors who read from Bobby in Naziland at the New York launch event, "Bobby on Beaver Street," at the Killarney Rose, in December. He then agreed to reprise his performance on camera, in my apartment—in an effort to entice people to come to my next event, February 1, 7 P.M., at Books & Books, in Coral Gables, Florida.

 

His reading—all of Chapter 15, "The Flatbush Diet"—was perhaps the most challenging. For one thing, it was the longest reading. Having performed it myself, twice, at other events, I can say with assurance that it's a bit of a tongue-twister—and I wrote it.

 

As Joe explains in the above video, he's the first goy to attempt to read it out loud and in public, which means he didn't know how to pronounce a number of the foods mentioned in the chapter, like gribenes, matzoh brei, and pupick, a Yiddish word for a chicken's bellybutton.

 

But Joe is a living embodiment of the old saying, "There are no small parts, only small actors." Check out his performance as Judge Leo Tirone in Showtime's City on the Hill. In the episode "If Only the Fool Would Persist in His Folly," watch what he does with three words: Him… her… it?

 

It should come as no surprise, then, that Joe handled "The Flatbush Diet" like the professional he is. See for yourself in the video. It might be enough to make you want to come to Florida to hear me read, or at least buy the book, if you haven't already.

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Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my still-embryonic Instagram.

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Laralu From the Living Room

As I prepare for my February 1 Bobby in Naziland event at the venerable Books & Books, in Coral Gables, Florida, I've been learning from the actors I've been filming as they read select passages from my memoir. These "studio" readings are a reprise of their performances at the New York launch event "Bobby on Beaver Street," at the Killarney Rose last month.

 

This week, the lovely and talented Laralu Smith takes her turn before the camera. Best known for her work on stage, Laralu has appeared in NYC and regional productions of Up the Rabbit Hole (TNC), Major Barbara (Helluva Theater), A Bright Room Called Day (The Connelly), The Practice Child (Fringe NYC), Whisper (INTAR), Close Ties (Long Wharf), and Tartuffe (Capital Rep). She's also a regular performer with the Upright Citizen's Brigade Diversity Jam.

 

At an earlier Killarney Rose literary event, "Bloomsday on Beaver Street," Laralu read from the Molly Bloom section of James Joyce's Ulysses. That, I thought, well qualified her to read about another literary heroine—my mother, Eleanor Rosen.

 

In the above video, shot in my current living room, Laralu reads an excerpt from Chapter 14 of Bobby in Naziland, "In America...," part of which is set in another living room, in my Brooklyn household of long ago.

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Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

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Byron From the Farm

Byron Nilsson, a Renaissance man who resides with his family on Jollity Farm, in upstate New York, is a writer, actor, musician, beekeeper, gourmet chef, and my personal source of tech support for all things electronic.

 

I met him 25 years ago when I was editing a number of "adult" publications and needed a skilled writer to guide my readers to the burgeoning promised land of quality online erotica. Boy, was he ever the right man for the job!

 

Byron's experience contributing to the Swank magazine group was the inspiration for his play Mr. Sensitivity, performed at the 2009 New York Fringe Festival.

 

He was also the MC for the three literary events I've held at the Killarney Rose, on Beaver Street, in New York City. At the most recent one, "Bobby on Beaver Street," the December 14, 2019, launch of Bobby in Naziland, Byron read the opening of Chapter 13, "Cruel Affections." In the above video, Byron, from his CD-lined Jollity Farm office, reprises his reading.

 

The next Bobby in Naziland event is 7 P.M., Saturday, February 1, at Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida. Yes, Super Bowl LIV is the next day, up the road at Hard Rock Stadium, in Miami Gardens. If you're in the area and looking for an alternative to a pre-Super Bowl party, please stop by. There's quite a bit of football in the book, and I'll talk about it if you insist.

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Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my still-embryonic Instagram.

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Deametrice From the Hood

Russell Baker sat in a club chair in a stuffy, wood-paneled den with a fireplace as he eruditely introduced episodes of Masterpiece Theatre. A similar setting—club chair and fireplace, anyway—seemed appropriate for my West Village neighbor Deametrice Eyster's reading from "Fragments of My Father," Chapter 11 of Bobby in Naziland: A Tale of Flatbush. It's the same section that Eyster, a writer of poetry and short stories, read before a live audience at the "Bobby on Beaver Street" event in mid-December.

 

Here in Eyster's cozy apartment—far brighter than Baker's dim redoubt—she spins the tale of how my father, "a true believer in free enterprise," set out to become the "anal-lube king of South Florida."

 

Though you'd never hear such a story on Masterpiece Theatre, some readers of Bobby in Naziland have called the book "a masterpiece" in its own right. And for that I thank them.

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The next Bobby in Naziland event is at 7 P.M., Saturday, February 1, 2020 at Books & Books in Coral Gables.

 

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my recently launched Instagram.

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Bobby From the Block

Since my memoir Bobby in Naziland: A Tale of Flatbush was published in September, I've done a number of readings (with more to come) at bookstores, a temple, and at private events. Most of these readings were followed by Q&A sessions, and one question that people have asked at almost every event is: Why that title?

 

A cousin who'd read the book and then invited me to speak to her book club told me, "I love the book but I hate the title. If I were your publisher, I'd make you change it."

 

I've seen similar sentiments posted online. One person said a generic title, like A Jewish Childhood, would have been better.

 

I've lived with Bobby in Naziland for years and the title stuck—because it's a true and accurate title, and I like the allusion to Alice in Wonderland. To me, it's the only possible title.

 

In the above video, I read the beginning of Chapter 3, "Heil Irwin!" It's the passage I read last week, at the event "Bobby on Beaver Street." It's one of the passages I will read February 1, 2020, at Books & Books, in Coral Gables. And it's one of the many passages that should clarify why I chose Bobby in Naziland as the title.

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Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

The next Bobby in Naziland event is 7 P.M., Saturday, February 1, 2020 at Books and Books in Miami.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my recently launched Instagram.

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Suzi From the Block

It was somewhere between stand-up comedy and Shakespearean soliloquy. The cast, in alphabetical order, included Susan Barrett, Deametrice Eyster, Joe Gioco, Mary Lyn Maiscott, Byron Nilsson, and Laralu Smith.

 

The event was "Bobby on Beaver Street," the December 14 New York City launch of my memoir Bobby in Naziland: A Tale of Flatbush, at the Killarney Rose. 

 

Even though I spent seven years living (and dying) with the material as I wrote the book, practically memorizing parts of it, and going over every word and punctuation mark more times than I can count with a perfectionist editor and her microscope, the actors somehow made Bobby in Naziland sound fresh to my own ears. What a treat it was to watch such talented people bring to life the lost world of mid-20th-century Brooklyn!

 

The audience seemed so caught up in what they were witnessing, most of them put aside their 21st-century technology and simply watched, like people used to do in the 20th century. Consequently, only one actor, Susan Barrett, was recorded on video. But that video says it all, and you can watch it, above.

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The next Bobby in Naziland event: 7 P.M., Saturday, February 1, 2020 at Books & Books in Miami.

 

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my recently launched Instagram.

 

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In the Realm of "Brighton Beach Memoirs"

 

"Bobby on Beaver Street," the December 14 New York City launch event for Bobby in Naziland: A Tale of Flatbush, at the Killarney Rose on Beaver Street, is three days away.

 

Published in September, the book has appeared on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch bestseller list and has been assessed by critics. Below is some of what they've had to say. (Earlier reviews and interviews ran on Huffpost, The Jewish Voice, BK Reader, The MacWire, The Almanac of Menlo Park, and NF Reads.)

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"Mid 20th Century Flatbush as seen through the eyes of a Jewish boy whose bigoted dad liberated a Nazi death camp. Bobby in Naziland is a darkly funny coming of age story that many people can appreciate now, of all times." —Lesley Abravanel of the Miami Herald on Twitter

 

"The writing is fluid and poetic. I loved this book. It was hard to put down." —Jen Senko, filmmaker, The Brainwashing of My Dad

 

"The style and voice – matter-of-fact, witty – deliver [Rosen's] portrait of life growing up in Flatbush with great charm. He reminded me of Philip Roth in Portnoy's Complaint or J D Salinger and Catcher in the Rye." —Erotic Review

 

"Robert's writing is intoxicating." —Barbara Bradman

 

"I think of [Bobby in Naziland] as being in the realm of Brighton Beach Memoirs, but more inner-referenced, more emotional, and with characters who are more believable than Neil Simon's. I love this book." —Nunzio Adorato

 

"Flatbush is forever part of who Robert Rosen is." —The Jewish Advocate of Boston

 

"Childhood is a kind of fantastic wilderness that you gratefully leave behind forever, and so it goes (mostly) untold, unstudied. That a book like Bobby in Naziland does do some of the telling and studying I think is admirable. Nothing is prettified and the detail is thick.... Bobby in Naziland makes a real, if belated, contribution to postwar Jewish-American literature." —Mad Shopper

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Please do stop by the Killarney Rose at 7 P.M., Saturday, December 14, and listen to some very talented actors, writers, and musicians, including Susan Barrett, Deametrice Eyster, Joe Gioco, Mary Lyn Maiscott, Byron Nilsson, Laralu Smith, and myself read from Bobby in Naziland. Find out why critics (for the most part) have turned thumbs up for Bobby.

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The next Bobby in Naziland event is 7 P.M., Saturday, February 1, 2020 at Books and Books in Miami.

 

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my recently launched Instagram.

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A Perfect, Dimly Lighted Place

 

One afternoon in the autumn of 2006, after working on a book for several hours, I closed my laptop and went out for a 5.3-mile walk—10,000 steps. Heading downtown from Soho, I had no destination in mind.

 

Walking, I found, was like meditation—it cleared my head and relaxed me. Also, as often happened on these walks, the solution to whatever writing problem I'd been struggling with would pop into my head. I always carried pen and paper.

 

On that late afternoon in early October, I was thinking that I needed a catchier title for my new book. The working title, "A History of Modern Pornography," sounded too academic. For the five years that I'd been writing it, I'd failed to come up with a suitable title that encompassed all of what the book was about: an examination through a pornographic lens of late-20th-century capitalism and politics.

 

Wandering through a warren of narrow, twisting streets near the Battery, lost in the reverie of a daydream, I suddenly stopped and glanced up at the street sign.

 

I was on the corner of Beaver and Broad.

 

Oh my God, I thought, that's it! That's the title of my book: Beaver Street! It's perfect. The street not only intersects with Wall Street, the beating heart of the capitalist system, but beaver (as I once explained to an inquisitive French woman) is commonly used American slang for female genitalia.

 

I also knew that I had to have my book party on Beaver Street. So I walked the length of the street, from Pearl to Broadway, searching for an appropriate venue. The only place that seemed like a possibility was the Killarney Rose, a bar at 80 Beaver Street. I walked in and discovered the upstairs lounge, which had the cozy feel of a private club. It was an ideal place for a book party.

 

All I had to do was finish writing Beaver Street and get it published. That took six more years. But on June 16, 2012, I did, indeed, have the launch party in the upstairs lounge of the Killarney Rose. And thus was born "Bloomsday on Beaver Street," a well-attended event celebrating literary books that had been branded pornography, like James Joyce's Ulysses and, of course, Beaver Street. The event went so well, we did it again the following year.

 

This year, at 7 P.M., Saturday, December 14, I and a talented troupe of professional actors, musicians, and writers will return to the upstairs lounge of the Killarney Rose to celebrate the publication of my new memoir, Bobby in Naziland: A Tale of Flatbush.

 

The cast, which includes Susan Barrett, Deametrice Eyster, Joe Gioco, Mary Lyn Maiscott, Byron Nilsson, Laralu Smith, and me, will read select passages from the book. I hope you can join us for a night of Bobby on Beaver Street. The event is free and you can find the invitation here.

 

MC Byron Nilsson delivers the opening monologue at Bloomsday on Beaver Street, June 16, 2012.

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Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my recently launched Instagram.

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Bobby Goes to Bay Ridge, Returns to Beaver Street

 

They came to The BookMark Shoppe, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, on the night of November 9, by subway, automobile, bicycle, and foot to hear me read from Bobby in Naziland and answer questions about the book. It was the first time a bookstore within the five boroughs of New York City had held an event for one of my books. Among the audience were people I hadn't seen since high school and college; former Flatbushians; current Flatbushians; a fellow Headpress author; and a couple of complete strangers.

 

It was also the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht or the Night of Broken Glass—the night Nazi leaders unleashed a series of pogroms against the Jewish population in Germany, the first act of what would become the Final Solution.

 

And though the Q&A that followed the reading inevitably turned to the Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, and the traumatic aftereffects that World War II had on America in the 1950s, that night I'd chosen not to read about Nazis. Instead, I read from a chapter titled "The Great Candy-Store Tragedy," which is about my father's candy store on Church Avenue but also about the Brooklyn Dodgers, many of whom had lived nearby the bookstore.

 

The night was also a prelude to one more local event: "Bobby on Beaver Street," which will be held Saturday, December 14, at 7 P.M. in the upstairs lounge of the Killarney Rose, on Beaver Street in downtown Manhattan. (The address is actually 127 Pearl Street, but there's also an entrance on Beaver Street.)

 

Readers of this blog will recall the Killarney Rose as the setting of the two "Bloomsday on Beaver Street" events I held on June 16, 2012 and 2013. The first event was the New York launch of my previous book, Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography; the second event was a celebration of literary books that had been branded pornography, like Ulysses, by James Joyce (which takes place on June 16, 1904), and yes, Beaver Street.

 

"Bobby on Beaver Street" will feature actors such as Susan Barrett, Byron Nilsson, Joe Gioco, and Laralu Smith reading select passages from Bobby in Naziland. Barrett, who has appeared in such shows as 30 Rock, grew up next door to me and is intimately familiar with the material she will read. Nilsson will be returning as the Beaver Street MC. Gioco is currently appearing in as Judge Leo Tirone in Showtime's City on a Hill. And Smith's searing reading from the Molly Bloom section of Ulysses was a highlight of Bloomsday 2013.

 

The event is free. Please stay tuned for more details.

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Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my recently launched Instagram.

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Ghosts of the Nazis Were Everywhere

 

It was the first time since my bar mitzvah that I'd stood before people in a synagogue and spoken to them. The occasion: an October 27 gathering of the Temple Sinai Book Club, in Dresher, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia. Members of the club, and others who'd heard about the event, came to hear me read from my memoir Bobby in Naziland and to ask questions about it.

 

My cousin Susan Klausner-Bratt loved the book—she knew a number of the "characters"—and pitched it to club president Tobey Grand, who agreed to add Bobby in Naziland to the fall reading list.

 

But Susan and Tobey both had issues with the title. Susan had called me after reading it and said, "I hate the title. If I were your publisher, I'd make you change it." Tobey told me that she almost didn't read the book because of the title. She thought it was going to be a depressing Holocaust memoir and asked if there'd been any discussions with the publisher about changing it.

 

There were not, I said.

 

As I told the book club, I lived with the title for several years, and it stuck—because it's a true title; it's what the book's about. Bobby in Naziland is a memoir about growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 60s, surrounded by Holocaust survivors and World War II vets who fought the Nazis. I describe Flatbush as a place where "the war lingered like a mass hallucination." Ghosts of the Nazis were everywhere. The book describes in visceral detail how Flatbush was a neighborhood suffering from an epidemic of what was not yet called post-traumatic stress disorder, and how this physically and emotionally violent environment could affect a child.

 

And though the Holocaust of course plays a major role, Bobby in Naziland is really a book about America in the aftermath of the war, with baseball a major theme. Tobey, a Philadelphia Phillies fan, was delighted by what I'd written about the final days of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the invincible New York Yankees of the early 1960s. "The Dodgers betrayed Brooklyn!" she said. "And Mickey Mantle was like a movie star!"

 

Since Bobby in Naziland is also about food and candy stores—and since Susan and Tobey had assembled a celebratory candy store in the temple lounge, where egg creams were served—I read "The Flatbush Diet" chapter and a few paragraphs from "The Great Candy-Store Tragedy," which explains how to make perfect egg creams.

 

A surprising number of people in the audience had once lived in Brooklyn. One woman told a story about how her father had owned a candy store in Brighton Beach. My story, I said, could have been her story, and her Brighton Beach memories again reminded me that Bobby in Naziland's themes are universal and that Flatbush was a microcosm of post-war America. (Yet, as I've also heard at this and other readings, people living on a different street a few blocks from where I grew up could have had a completely different experience.)

 

One man, Max Levine, was also originally from Brighton Beach, the son of Yiddish-speaking Holocaust survivors from Poland. His father is one of the main characters in the documentary The Boys of 2nd Street Park, about a group of men who'd grown up together in Brighton Beach in the 1960s. Max talked about how American-born Jews looked down upon the Yiddish-speaking refugees and survivors, calling them "greenhorns."

 

Most of the discussion, on what happened to be the first anniversary of the massacre in Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue, was about the Holocaust, and one theme that emerged was how Holocaust survivors rarely spoke of their experiences, but the next generation, my generation, needed to find out everything. Tobey mentioned that she didn't even know about the Holocaust until she read about it in a book.

 

"Were you afraid that the world was out to get you?" somebody asked.

 

"No," I said, "I was only afraid my neighbors were out to get me"—referring to how the kids were always beating each other up.

 

Another Jewish writer, Philip Roth, once said, "It's a curse to have a writer born in the family." I suppose that can be true. But in the case of Bobby in Naziland, as my readings have demonstrated, the book has been bringing people together, Jew and goyim alike. That, I think, is a blessing.

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The next Bobby in Naziland event is Saturday, November 9, at 5 PM, in The BookMark Shoppe in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

 

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my recently launched Instagram.

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Next Stop, Philadelphia… But First, a Word About St. Louis

 

If you're into Brooklyn, candy stores, and literature, the place to be Sunday, October 27, at 10 AM, is Temple Sinai in Dresher, Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia suburb. In celebration of Bobby in Naziland and my father's candy store, which plays a big part in the memoir, the temple book club is building a candy store on site. They will be serving egg creams and I will be reading from and signing copies of the book. The event is free and all are welcome. To attend, please RSVP by October 22 to Tobey Grand, tgrand10290@gmail.com.

 

With any luck, the event will go as well as last Wednesday's reading at Subterranean Books, in St. Louis, where, for an enthusiastic SRO crowd, I read from two chapters of Bobby in Naziland, "The Goyim and the Jews" and "Something Different Happened." Though the book, in many ways, is the best published representation of what you might call my "natural voice," parts of it are not easy to read out loud in front of people, though I didn't realize this until I started preparing for the reading.

 

Primarily, it has to do with the subject matter and the way it's presented—the thoughts and emotions of a meshuggener child filtered through an adult consciousness. The book's narrator, in describing his childhood experiences, reverts back to that childhood.

 

As I explained at Subterranean, some of the passages I'd first considered reading were just too raw. I wouldn't have been comfortable reading them in front of an audience. For example, I thought I might read from chapter two, "Naziland," part of which describes the mutilated Auschwitz survivors I saw in the locker room at a Brooklyn beach club a friend had taken me to when I was 10 years old. But it was too painful, I decided. Another part I chose not to read was a graphic depiction of racism—it was too wrenching and emotional.

 

Instead, I read (or should I say "gossiped"?) about my Brooklyn neighbors from six decades ago, and I read granular descriptions of the Flatbush streets—what they looked like, sounded like, felt like, and smelled like. I also read a scene that took place February 10, 1964, 79 days after the Kennedy assassination and the day after the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show—the moment when the 1960s began for me. The Q&A that followed was lively and served as another reminder that the themes I explored in Bobby in Naziland are universal.

 

Earlier that week in St. Louis, at a private gathering, I read "The Flatbush Diet," which I described as one of the "lighter and more Jewish chapters." The party was thrown by an old friend from Flatbush, whom I'd lost touch with in 1972, soon after he'd transferred to an out-of-town college. I mostly remembered Ernest Abramson from our super-competitive pickup football games. In the ensuing years, he'd become a prosperous dentist who lived in a beautiful, art-filled home in the St. Louis suburbs.

 

It was mind-blowing when he contacted me. He happened to see the book on Amazon, and noticed my name, but thought that there were thousands of Robert Rosens (which there are). Then he saw my picture and realized it was me. He read Bobby in Naziland and it blew his mind. "It was like reading my biography," he said.

 

The party he and his wife, Ellen, threw was fantastic—a gathering of the local Jewish community, and a feast of many of the foods I wrote about, including chopped liver and numerous sweets that my father used to sell in his candy store.

 

The dialogue that followed the reading was exactly the kind of provocative conversation I'd hoped the book would spark—a discussion of the newly inflamed bigotry throughout the world and the fact that the generation that experienced the Holocaust and fought in World War II is dying out and that their stories must never be forgotten.

 

These events made me feel that Bobby in Naziland is a book that's bringing people together. I hope this will continue in Philadelphia and beyond.

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Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my recently launched Instagram.

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Meet Me in St. Louis

 

The first official event of the Bobby in Naziland reading tour, 2019-20, will take place at Subterranean Books, in St. Louis, on Wednesday, October 16, at 7 PM. I'll be reading from chapter one, "The Goyim and the Jews," which sets the scene for the book and gives the reader a sense of what it was like to be in Flatbush in the 1950s and 60s, when a significant portion of the population of this provincial Brooklyn neighborhood was comprised of Holocaust survivors and World War II vets who'd fought the Nazis.

 

I'll then be taking questions, and one question I expect (because many people have already asked me) is: Why that title?

 

It's a good question, and I can tell you this: I lived with that title for years, and it stuck—because it's an accurate title; it's what the book's about. Because of who my neighbors were, Flatbush was a place where the war lingered like a mass hallucination. Ghosts of the Nazis were everywhere.

 

As you may have guessed, the title is also a reference to Alice in Wonderland. As you may not have guessed, the subtitle, A Tale of Flatbush, is a reference to the subtitle of Melville's Bartleby the Scrivner: A Story of Wall Street.

 

If there's still time after the questions, for my encore I'll read part of the Beatles section, from chapter 18, "Something Different Happened."

 

I'm very much looking forward to returning to St. Louis, which I make a point of doing when I have a new book out. When I was there in 2012, after the publication of Beaver Street, I did three events, in Shameless Grounds, Left Bank Books, and the late, lamented Apop.

 

Wednesday, at Subterranean, I hope to see some familiar faces.

 

________

I'll be reading and signing Bobby in Naziland at Temple Sinai, in Dresher, PA, Sunday, October 27, 10 AM. To attend, please RSVP by Oct. 22 to Tobey Grand, tgrand10290@gmail.com. The event is free, all are welcome, and, I'm told, there will be a candy store and egg creams. Seriously.

________

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you should buy it if you can.

 

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Everything Fades

 

The picture I refer to in the caption, an excerpt from Bobby in Naziland, is the one above, a colorized photo of my parents, Eleanor and Irwin Rosen, taken November 1948, on their honeymoon in Miami Beach. Back in Brooklyn, many decades ago, the photo stood on the dresser in their bedroom, and I'd stare at it every time I walked in.

 

I didn't have the photo when I was writing about it; I was going by memory. But I have it now, and clearly, the ocean is not turquoise and the sand is not golden. Yes, the memory plays tricks, but the photo is 71 years old, so the colors have obviously faded. Though I think when it first penetrated my consciousness, probably in 1956, the water was some shade of blue and the sand, if not golden, was certainly not gray.

 

Everything fades.

 

Inspired by the photo, I spent my childhood longing to go to Miami, "the most beautiful city in the world." But to do so seemed an impossible dream, as fantastic as going to the moon. Ironically, in the early 1970s, when I began to expand my horizons through the magic of low-cost jet travel and hitchhiking, I was no longer in any rush to get to Florida. Europe and California called more loudly, and I listened.

 

I finally did make it to Florida in 1975, during my brief career as a speechwriter for the secretary of the air force. I'd written a graduation speech for Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, in Daytona Beach, and I flew down there to watch the secretary deliver it. The morning of the speech, from my hotel balcony, I watched the sun rise over the Atlantic.

 

Perhaps more ironically (though not surprisingly), when my parents retired to Florida 25 years ago, moving to a town called Greenacres, near Lake Worth, their condo at one time was within a few miles (if not yards) of two uncles, one aunt, two cousins, and four of their friends, all originally from Brooklyn, some with their accents intact.

 

Journeys to Florida, where my mother still lives, have become routine, and it now seems about as exotic as Brooklyn did all those years ago.

 

As for Miami Beach, my wife, Mary Lyn, loves the place. So visits to Greenacres always include a side trip to that revitalized and climate-change-threatened city, faded in parts, but still, in its way, retaining a touch of magic.

________

Meet me in St. Louis, Wednesday, October 16, 7 PM, at Subterranean Books. I'll be reading and signing copies of Bobby in Naziland.

________

I'll be reading and signing Bobby in Naziland at Temple Sinai, in Dresher, PA, Sunday, October 27, 10 AM. To attend, please RSVP by Oct. 22 to Tobey Grand, tgrand10290@gmail.com. The event is free, all are welcome, and, I'm told, there will be a candy store and egg creams. Seriously.

________

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

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The UFOs of '52... and Evita

 

The above photo is a detail from a two-page advertisement that ran in The New York Times several months ago. It was for a show on the History channel, Project Blue Book, described as a drama "based on the true, top-secret investigations into Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs)… conducted by the United States Air Force from 1952 to 1969."

 

I checked out the first episode and turned it off after a half hour. It was pure, made-for-TV schlock. Yet the ad itself was astonishing—because the date on the newspaper article in the ad, July 27, 1952, is the day I was born.

 

As the excerpt from Bobby in Naziland indicates, the UFO frenzy of July 1952 is an incident that I explore in some detail—and as I was preparing the book for publication, it was weird to see one of the very newspaper articles I'd written about being used to promote an ancient occurrence that the gods of TV had suddenly deemed fit for mass consumption. Was I on to something?

 

I explain in the book that I found out about the UFOs of '52 only a few years ago, when I was in the library researching something else that had happened hours before my birth: the death of Eva Perón. I knew about Evita because my mother, a big fan of "The Lady of Hope," was always telling me about how Perón's death was on the front page of all the papers the day I was born. But she never said a word about the UFOs, which I'd have found a lot more interesting.

 

So it was a bit of a shock to learn that this other thing was also dominating the headlines that long-ago summer day. And it made me wonder: Had the aliens come for Evita and me?

 

Perhaps the gods of TV will explore that in some other extravaganza. Quality, in this case, would be a nice touch.

________

Meet me in St. Louis, Wednesday, October 16, 7 PM, at Subterranean Books. I'll be reading and signing copies of Bobby in Naziland.

________

I'll be reading and signing Bobby in Naziland at Temple Sinai, in Dresher, PA, Sunday, October 27, 10 AM. To attend, please RSVP by Oct. 22 to Tobey Grand, tgrand10290@gmail.com. The event is free, all are welcome, and, I'm told, there will be a candy store and egg creams. Seriously.

________

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

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The Last Mercedes

 

Many years ago, in another life, I was editorial director of the Motor World car-buyer's guides. The gig involved long hours and endless deadlines. But it was the closest thing I've ever had to a dream job. Every week, a car company gave me a new car to test, and I got to drive everything, except for exotics. I met my wife while I was testing a Volkswagen Passat. Our first date was in a Toyota MR2. Our second date was in a Porsche 944 Cabriolet (the 911 would come later). She couldn't help but be a little impressed!

 

At the same time, for the same company, I was editing men's magazines, and wrote about cars in those, too—to give the mags "socially redeeming value." For those articles, I had near-total creative freedom and wrote some crazy satirical stuff—which nobody read except for one PR guy at Mazda.

 

One week, Mercedes-Benz gave me a fully loaded, $86,000, SL convertible to test for Motor World. I took all my friends joy-riding, let my father drive it, and for one of the men's magazines (whose name I prefer not to mention) wrote the "review" as an over-the-top Hunter Thompson parody titled "Mein Kar" (trigger warning!). Here's an excerpt, originally published in 1990:

 

My father, having spent most of his adult life confined to Chrysler K-cars and automobiles of that ilk, was anxious to test the parameters of the Mercedes. The war was a long time ago, and though he'd always taken personally the fact that the Third Reich had spent four years trying to kill him, he was also appreciative of the opportunity they'd created for him to tour France at a tender age and learn the art of oral sex from experienced French women.

 

"Let me drive," he said when I pulled up to his house and lowered the convertible top.

 

I gave him the wheel and he glided stylishly onto the street, waving to the awestruck neighbors as he drove by.

 

"They'll think I'm wealthy as a king," he said. "How fast does this thing go?"

 

"Zero to 60 in 6.3 seconds… not bad for a car that weighs as much as an elephant... and it has a top speed limited electronically to 155 miles per hour, which means it could go faster, maybe 200. It's got a 5.0-liter 322-horsepower DOHC 32-valve V-8 engine. But you know the Germans... a green people. They don't want maniac drivers breaking the sound barrier on the autobahn. But it will still outrun the F-15 Eagle till takeoff."

 

"Takeoff?" my father said. "Can we handle that much torque?"

 

"Only in the desert but we can't go that far today."

 

"Why not?"

 

"The time factor… I need to make a high-speed run to the Canadian border with my Hawaiian pharmacologist, but first I must see my Nazi pimp."

 

"Your Nazi pimp?" he said, heading north on the Palisades Interstate Parkway at a smooth 95. "Those people should be tried for crimes against humanity."

 

"Maybe so, but you have to give them credit for technological expertise."

 

"Yes… indeed," he said thoughtfully. "This is the way to travel."

 

I couldn't believe that someone from Mercedes happened to see the story. Consequently, it was the last car they ever gave me. It was also the only Mercedes my father ever drove. Unfortunately, I can't find the 29-year-old magazine with the article, which has my father's picture in it, taken outside Mercedes headquarters in Montvale, New Jersey. All I have is what you see above—a lo-res scan I made years ago.

 

I should send the Boys from Benz a copy of Bobby in Naziland. Because it should come standard in every Mercedes, tucked in the glove compartment along with the owner's manual.

________

Meet me in St. Louis, Wednesday, October 16, 7 PM, at Subterranean Books. I'll be reading and signing copies of Bobby in Naziland.

________

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

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Time Stands Still

 

I was standing in the Dutch Reformed Church cemetery, in early August, talking to Liena Zagare, publisher and editor of the Bklyner newspaper. We were in the midst of a walking tour of some of the Flatbush sites I wrote about in Bobby in Naziland, and the cemetery was high on the list.

 

"I was a gloomy kid," I told her, as I stared at one of those weathered and now almost unreadable tombstones, barely able to make out the inscribed dates. The person whose bones now lay beneath my feet appeared to have been born in the final years of the 18th century and to have died in the opening years of the 19th—a child.

 

It was, I'm sure, one of the many tombstones I brooded over when I was a kid and I'd come to the cemetery on one of my solitary Flatbush walking tours, looking for something interesting to fill my day. I was attracted to cemeteries because I was obsessed with death. In my own family, as I explain in the book, death was more taboo than sex, something only to be spoken of in the abstract and never to be spoken of when it was real and personal.

 

I also found the cemetery serene, like my own private park. Nobody else was ever there—probably because the cemetery entrance is hidden, on a nearby dead-end street. And despite my obsessive thoughts about dying, I liked the sense of being in a place where time had stood still for more than 200 years.

 ________

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

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Moe and the Stooges: Bigger Than Babs?

 

Erasmus Hall High School has always made a point of publicizing its famous alumni, of which there are plenty. The list, which includes actors, writers, athletes, and a certain chess champion, is well known. (You can read it here and here.) Barbra Streisand, of course, was the local girl that everybody in Flatbush knew about, even if they didn't go to Erasmus.

 

Babs could not only sing; she was an honor student—a role model for the entire neighborhood. Yet it was almost a secret that somebody whose fame arguably rivals or eclipses that of the great Ms. Streisand also attended Erasmus.

 

The school, presumably, preferred that the student body remain ignorant of the fact that a high school dropout could become rich and famous by performing violent acts of slapstick stupidity.

 

Yes, Moe Howard was, however briefly, an Erasmian. And he makes a cameo appearance in Bobby in Naziland—because, in 1962, to promote the film The Three Stooges in Orbit, the Stooges made a live appearance at the Lowe's Kings, on Flatbush Avenue, sending the packed house of Stooge-crazy kids into paroxysms of ecstasy. (That's Larry, Moe, and Curly in the photo.)

 

And yes, I was there. My takeaway from that memorable afternoon: Larry's hair was real.

________

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Homage to My Great-Uncle Robert, Who Died in Catalonia

 

No, not "supposedly," not anymore. I was named after my mother's uncle Robert Weber, who joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade to fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War. And he's no longer "presumed dead." He's been dead for 81 years.

 

As I was writing Bobby in Naziland, I still classified the above facts about my great-uncle as rumors, part of the multitude of vague and incomplete family stories that had been swirling around for as long as I could remember, but that I could never pin down—because like so many things having to do with my family's history, especially death, nobody wanted to talk about them.

 

I'd never even seen a picture of the person I was named after, because, my mother told me when I asked her about it the other week, there weren't any. She barely remembers her uncle Robert. He disappeared when she was 11. Though she does remember that after a trip to the South Seas, he brought her back a coconut carved into the shape of a woman.

 

But my mother liked the name Robert, and in the Jewish tradition babies are named after a dead person. Her uncle was, in short, a convenient and presumably dead person whose name was available when I was born.

 

I also didn't know that my grandfather had changed the family name to "Webber," adding an additional "b" because he thought "Weber" sounded too German. Because I was spelling my mother's maiden name with two "b"s, I couldn't find anything on the Internet about her uncle, who hadn't changed his name.

 

It was only recently that I found a site called Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, or ¡ALBA! A posting on the site confirmed that my great-uncle was, indeed, killed in action—KIA—in the Spanish Civil War.

 

Here's everything that's posted on ¡ALBA! about Robert R. Weber:

 

b. September 12, 1903, Russia, Russian American, Jewish, received passport# 491405 on January 5, 1938 which listed his address as 442 West 23rd Street, NYC. Sailed January 12, 1938 aboard the Aquitania. Served with the XV BDE, Lincoln-Washington BN, rank Soldado, reported MIA March 1938 near Gandesa; later determined KIA between March 30 and April 3, 1938 during the Retreats.

 

A few months ago, in New York, not long after I'd found the information on ¡ALBA!, my wife and I were having dinner with Susana Aikin, a historical novelist whom we'd met in Madrid last year. She told us that she was in the midst of researching a book about the Spanish Civil War.

 

"I was named after somebody who was killed in the Spanish Civil War," I said. "He'd joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade."

 

"What's his name?"

 

I told her.

 

She said she recognized it. "Very few New Yorkers joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Do you know where he was killed?"

 

"I don't remember. I think it starts with a 'G.'"

 

"Gandesa?"

 

"Yeah, I think that's it."

 

"Have you been there?"

 

"No, it's never occurred to me to go there."

 

"You should go there."

 

It is an intriguing idea, and maybe I will. In the meantime, I did go to 442 West 23rd Street, my great-uncle Robert R. Weber's last known address. That's where the above picture was taken. The building, 119 years old, is now an attractive five-story row house with apartments selling for an average of $1,754,000. In 1938, it was probably a rooming house. I'd have liked to see Robert's room, too, but that just wasn't possible.

________

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The Gin Mills of Church Avenue

 

I never heard anybody call it the "Maple Court Cafe," but that's its official name, at least according to the above postcard. Everybody called it the "Maple Court Tavern," because that's what it was—a tavern, a bar, or as my father called every low-rent dive on Church Avenue, a "gin mill."

 

And though the postcard makes it look like a classy joint—it was once the conveniently located bar of choice for the wealthy denizens of Prospect Park South—by the time I came to know it, it was a dim, dank, dingy place. There were no potted plants or souvenir postcards or palm trees painted on the walls. According to my parents, it was where the "goyim" did their drinking. In my mind's eye, the bar was horseshoe shaped. But it was, in fact, a rectangle with curved corners. Because I sat at the far end, I can see how I misremembered that.

 

The Stingo I refer to in the quote under the postcard is the narrator of William Styron's Holocaust novel, Sophie's Choice. It's one of the many places in Flatbush that appear in his book as well as mine, and in Bobby in Naziland, I spend a couple of pages contrasting my own impressions of the neighborhood with Stingo's.

 

Every store, bar, and restaurant on Church Avenue's commercial strip has since been replaced by some other kind of store or restaurant (though no bars). A laundry has become a health food store. Two candy stores, including my father's, have become part of a subway station.

 

And the Maple Court Tavern (or cafe) is a pharmacy. Choose your poison, though now you need a prescription.

________

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King of the Jews

 

When the Dodgers played their last game in Brooklyn, on September 24, 1957, I was five years old and had just begun kindergarten. As I explain in Bobby in Naziland, I am among the last generation to have a living memory of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Had I been born just a few months later, I would not have been old enough to remember them.

 

So yes, I remember seeing them play on the tiny screen of our black-and-white TV, while my mother, a true-blue Dodgers fan, and her friends sat around the living room cheering "them Bums" on. Even more clearly, I remember people talking about the Dodgers because people talked about them for years after they left Brooklyn. And they never stopped talking about Bobby Thomson's soul-destroying "shot heard 'round the world" in the 1951 playoff game between the Dodgers and Giants.

 

Yet long after the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, the spirit of Brooklyn-born Jew and strikeout artist Sandy Koufax—the rare local boy who'd played for his hometown team—continued to hover over the baseball diamonds of the Parade Grounds, where he'd learned his craft. Koufax—his rookie card from 1955 is shown above—was an inspiration to any Jewish kid who'd ever picked up a baseball and harbored, even for a minute, the slightest inklings of a major league dream.

 

Yet Koufax had his greatest moment as a Jew in Baseball nearly a decade after the Dodgers (like so many other Brooklynites) had split for the Coast. Game one of the 1965 World Series, between the Dodgers and Minnesota Twins, was scheduled for October 6—which was also Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish Year. Koufax, the Dodger ace, was supposed to pitch that day. But in his entire career he'd never pitched on Yom Kipper, and he declined to pitch even this crucial game.

 

That was the day he was crowned King of the Jews—because he demonstrated to the world at large and every goyim boss who'd ever demanded otherwise that no Jew, no matter how important his or her job, had to work on Yom Kipper.

 

The other Dodger ace, Don Drysdale, pitched on Yom Kipper, and LA lost. Koufax then pitched game two, but the Dodgers lost again—before going on to take four out of the next five games, with Koufax winning games five and seven, thereby giving LA (and the Jews) the world championship.

________

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The Pink Palace

 

In Bobby in Naziland, I describe the experience of reading William Styron's novel Sophie's Choice, in 1979, and my astonishment at discovering that its main setting was a ramshackle rooming house on the corner of Caton Avenue and Marlborough Road, two blocks from where I once lived. I used to pass that house every day, walking to and from my grade school, which was across the street.

 

Styron called the house the "Pink Palace." His alter ego, Stingo, and Sophie, an Auschwitz survivor, both lived there. As I was reading the book, I thought that Sophie could have been the fictional incarnation of any number of my neighbors—like the woman who worked in a nearby bakery on whose arm I first saw, in 1956, the blue Auschwitz number tattooed. I later found out that Styron and the woman upon whom he had based Sophie really did live in that house.

 

In Bobby in Naziland I wrote: "That a novel dealing with the Holocaust would one day be set in Flatbush was probably inevitable. But who could have predicted that it would be written not by a Jew or even a native Flatbushian, but by a goy from Newport News, Virginia, who had lived in the neighborhood for only a few months"?

 

Sophie's Choice allowed me to see Flatbush, a place I knew better than any patch of real estate on the planet, with fresh eyes. Styron, I wrote, expressed in his book "a simple truth that I'd never before heard anyone say: Flatbush was more Jewish than Tel Aviv."

 

The Pink Palace was torn down many years ago, replaced by a tan brick building housing a doctor's office. New York's tax photo archive, shot in 1940, supposedly includes every building in the city. But the Pink Palace, either overlooked or misfiled, is not there, and I can't find any pictures of it.

 

The house in the above photo is the house that played the Pink Palace in the 1982 film Sophie's Choice, starring Meryl Streep as Sophie, and Peter MacNicol (shown approaching the house) as Stingo. That house is located in Prospect Park South, on Rugby Road, a few blocks from where the real house once stood.

________

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10/15/64

 

My father's candy store was torn down in the 1980s. The spot where it once stood is now part of the Church Avenue subway station. For myriad reasons that I examine in Bobby in Naziland, there are no candy store pictures in our family photo album. I am, however, aware of two pictures of the store. One can be found here, among the collection of Brooklyn tax photos shot in 1940.

 

The other one is above, taken on the afternoon of October 15, 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson was campaigning in Brooklyn along with Robert Kennedy, who was running for the senate.

 

To me, the most remarkable thing about this photo is not that the president and a Kennedy are riding in an open limousine less than a year after Dallas. It's that it's the best picture I have of the candy store. You can see it on the left, in the middle of the block, next to the entrance to the BMT subway station, and the photo is clear enough to make out individual magazines and newspapers hanging above the store's windows.

 

I found the photo on Reddit some time ago but have been unable to track down the photographer. I'd like to see what else he (or she) shot that day.

 

I was standing outside the frame, a half-block away, on the corner of East 17th Street. Another photo, taken there moments later, ran in Look magazine. I can't find it online—Look, apparently, has yet to be digitized. It shows LBJ lifting into the limo a woman holding a sign that says, "We Love You. We Need You."

 

Flatbush was indeed a Democratic stronghold, and even my law-and-order Republican father was so caught up in the Johnson-Kennedy mania unfolding outside his store that he felt it was his patriotic duty to offer the president one of his famous egg creams.

 

There's one more thing about the photo I should point out: There's not one black or brown face in the crowd. Flatbush, in 1964, remained segregated; racism ran rampant; and in certain quarters the "N-word" was tossed around with impunity.

 

This, too, is a tragedy that Bobby in Naziland explores viscerally and in depth.

________

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A Faded Relic

 

Each apartment in Brighton Hall had a sealed-off fireplace in the living room, and I felt a pang of regret every time I looked at the outline on the wall in my apartment where the fireplace used to be. It would have been so cool to have a working fireplace, and so warm to sit by the hearth on the frequent frigid winter days when the boiler was broken and there was no heat or hot water. Having earned a camping merit badge in the Boy Scouts, I was good at building fires.

 

The fireplace in the above photo was the only one in the building that was not completely hidden. It was located in a common room off to the side of the first-floor entrance hall. When I lived there, the room served no purpose (as is still the case); sometimes people chained up their bikes there. But the architectural detail that went into that room is indicative of the building's luxurious origins. Note the heads carved into the pseudo-Ionic columns above the mantle, framing a frieze; the combination Ionic-Corinthian marble column in the foreground (a counterpoint to the Doric columns outside); the marble panel next to the column; and the elaborate moldings on the ceiling and walls.

 

Because Brighton Hall would be located close to the Parade Grounds and Prospect Park, and around the corner from a subway that would put you in Manhattan in 20 minutes, the builders thought East 17th Street was a perfect spot for a luxury apartment house. But their timing was off. The Great Depression hit as the building was being completed, and neglect set in immediately. By the time my parents signed a lease for a two-bedroom apartment, in 1953, Brighton Hall was a faded relic. But the rent was a reasonable $36 per month and my father could walk to work. His candy store on Church Avenue was 174 steps from the front door.

 

Even today, as Brooklyn becomes as gentrified as Manhattan, somehow the odd-numbered side of East 17th Street between Church and Caton Avenues remains the block that gentrification forgot.

________

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The Columns of Brighton Hall

 

Columns: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. You learn about them in school, especially if you studied architecture (which I did for a year at City College). They were a common sight in my neighborhood, found on all kinds of buildings, from shabby to sumptuous. (See "Tara of Flatbush.")

 

The columns in the above photo, taken in 2019, are the ones in front of Brighton Hall, the building on East 17th Street where I lived from 1953–65. The building itself and the street in front of it are two of the main settings for Bobby in Naziland.

 

As I've noted in previous posts, much about the building and street have changed in the ensuing decades. For example, it's a different front door, the concrete bannisters are gone, the lights are new, and there were no fences. The columns, too, have been modified. Though still clearly Doric, the fluting that I recall so well is no longer visible; the columns have been covered in some sort of spackle-like material and painted black. (Click here to see how the building looked in 1940.)

 

Yet there they stand, as solid as ever. And when I look upon them now, I remember that once upon a time I was small enough to fit, with room to spare, between the columns and the walls. And that's where I stood so many years ago when I pressed my cheek against the fluted gray stone.

 

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Tara of Flatbush

 

It's one of the most striking homes in serene and stately Prospect Park South, and I began to think of it as Tara of Flatbush after seeing Gone With the Wind. Modeled after a classical Greek temple, this glorious colonnaded abode looked like the kind of place Scarlett O'Hara would have wanted to live… had she ever come north to Brooklyn.

 

Flatbush Tara also had an attached greenhouse in the back (not visible in this photo), which appears to have been converted to a sunroom. It's smaller than I remember from bygone days, and I now doubt my entire apartment on East 17th Street, two blocks away, would have fit inside, as the caption, excerpted from Bobby in Naziland, says. But that's the way it looked to me as a kid—which is indicative of how the passage of time distorts memory. The more time that passes, the more the line blurs between what you remember and the reality of the way it was. That, too, is a theme I explore in the book.

 

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The Boulevards of Prospect Park South

 

The "mini-neighborhood" mentioned above, in another excerpt from chapter 1, "The Goyim and the Jews," of Bobby in Naziland, is Prospect Park South, an affluent district within working-class Flatbush.

 

Though Prospect Park South is in most ways the same as when I moved away, in 1965, two differences struck me when I returned in 2019: The houses are in much better shape than they were a half-century ago, and day trippers posing for selfies in front of the "eccentric mansions" now populate the "depopulated boulevards." The old hood has become a tourist destination.

 

You can see the graceful curve and some of the eccentric mansions in the photo, taken on Buckingham Road.

 

Headpress will publish Bobby in Naziland September 1. It's now available for pre-order on Amazon.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.

 

 

 

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Chvrch Avenve

 

The above caption is from chapter 1, "The Goyim and the Jews," of Bobby in Naziland, which Headpress will publish September 1. It describes the gateway to an opulent mini-neighborhood, within Flatbush, that stood in mind-boggling contrast to the shabbiness of East 17th Street, where I lived. The photo was taken recently, on the corner of Church Avenue and Marlboro Road. Though many things about the neighborhood have changed since 1965, when I moved away, some, like the red brick monoliths, are exactly the same.

 

"You don't have to be Jewish—or a Brooklynite—to be enchanted by this book."

 

As Bobby in Naziland's publication date inches closer, in addition to brief excerpts from the book and accompanying photos, I'll be posting links to reviews. In the first one, which ran in The Jewish Voice, a Brooklyn newspaper, the critic said, "You don't have to be Jewish—or a Brooklynite—to be enchanted by this book."

 

And I'll post information about media mentions, like the one you'll find in the coming attractions in the summer issue of Vanity Fair, on newsstands now. (Look for the Star Wars covers.)

 

Bobby in Naziland is available for pre-order on Amazon.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.

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