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, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.